Lately it would seem that fats and carbohydrates have both gotten a bad rap. First it was fat that was the culprit in all dietary ills, and low fat diets were all the rage. Then the two switched places, with carbohydrates being the bad guys and fat reigning supreme.
As with most extremes, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There is no such thing as a bad food, only bad dietary choices. While some foods are naturally better for you than others, there is no reason that all foods cannot be enjoyed in moderation. After all, the most successful diet is not one that you can follow for a day, a week or even a year. On the contrary, the only successful diet and nutrition program is one that you will be able to follow for a lifetime.
Both fats and carbohydrates play an important role in nutrition, and both are important to a healthy diet. It would be impossible and unwise to eliminate all fat from the diet, since fat is important for the production of energy, and for carrying valuable fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K, throughout the body. In addition, fat plays a vital role in regulating various bodily functions.
Even though some fat is essential to a healthy body, too much fat can be harmful. Excessive levels of dietary fats have been implicated in heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol levels and even some cancers. Most nutritionists recommend limiting daily fat intake to less than 20% of calories, although taking that level lower than 10% is not recommended.
Of course not all fats are created equal, and some fats are more harmful than others. Saturated fats and trans fats are generally understood to be more harmful in the diet than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These lighter fats, like canola oil and olive oil, should form the basis of cooking a healthier diet.
Keeping saturated fats and trans fats to a minimum is important to a healthy diet. Trans fats, which are solid at room temperature, are most often found in highly processed foods like cookies, cakes and other baked goods. In addition, trans fats are often found in fried foods and in salty snacks like potato chips. While these foods are fine in moderation, it is best to avoid large quantities of such snacks.
One additional word here about good fats – yes there are such things, and one of the most powerful of these are the so called omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are most often found in fish, and they have shown great promise in preventing and even reversing heart disease and high cholesterol levels.
When limiting your daily intake of fat and cholesterol, it is good to have an understanding of nutritional labels. These government mandated labels can be a huge help to those who take the time to read and understand them. Not only do nutritional labels provide valuable information on calories, fat content and sodium, but they provide valuable information about the most important vitamins and minerals as well.
Like fats, carbohydrates are found in a variety of different foods, some healthier than other. For instance, both Twinkies and whole wheat bread are sources of carbohydrates, but while one can form the basis of a healthy diet, the other is best used as an occasional snack.
In addition to cereals and breads, carbohydrates are also present in fruits and vegetables and in milk and other dairy products. Carbohydrates and fats are both important to a healthy, varied diet.
As with many products, less is often more when it comes to choosing foods rich in carbohydrates. For instance, less refined whole grain bread is generally more nutritious than white bread which has gone through a greater amount of refining. That is because the refining process tends to reduce nutrient content over time.
Of course, there are some elements in the diet that should be limited. Two of these elements are sugar and salt. Most Americans consume too much salt and sugar, and this has led to epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other ills. Limiting sugar and salt, while choosing good fats and unrefined carbohydrates, is a great way to maximize the nutritional value of the foods you eat.