Cutting Fat to Lose Weight

Shed pounds and get healthy. Here's how.

Despite widespread concern about high fat intake from our diets, our bodies do need fat to function well. 

Dietary fat plays an important role in human health. But knowing which fats to eat -- and how much -- is vital for optimum health.

Improving one’s diet and losing extra pounds can be as easy as eliminating bad fats, such as saturated and trans fat commonly found in abundance in most food prepared at fast food restaurants, regular restaurants, snack food, convenience food and so on.

Eliminating bad fat from the diet, consuming moderate amounts of healthy fat and exercising regularly will naturally result in weight loss for most overweight people. 

A moderate intake of “good” fat in one’s diet, for example, is a good way to maintain a healthy weight. Healthy fats in moderate quantities can actually regulate the appetite by suppressing hunger and preventing overeating.

While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are necessary for proper body functions, trans fats are dangerous and should be completely absent from every diet. That’s not to say that they should be replaced by saturated fat, as this would not make a healthy substitution. Saturated fat should also be eliminated or consumed in minimal amounts.

How much fat you need in your diet

While there is much controversy about how much fat and you should eat, there is plenty of evidence that saturated fat and trans fat are directly associated with many chronic illnesses.

Scientists believe that there is no safe level of trans fat that can be taken without increase risk of adverse effects—that even as little as 2 grams of trans fat consumption a day can increase serious health risks. 

Those who eat a doughnut every morning, beware, a glazed doughnut, for instance, has 4 grams of trans fatty acids and 2.5 grams of saturated fats (that’s a total of 6.5 grams of bad fat). Alarmingly, doughnut shops and the production of doughnuts is the fastest growing dining industry in the U.S. (And obesity is the fastest-growing disease. Coincidence?)

General nutritional guidelines recommend no more than 30% of total calorie intake to come from fats (no more than 10% from saturated but even less for someone with health problems). If the daily calorie intake is 2000 calories, which means that Amira Elgan the total consumption of fats should be no more than 65 grams per day in a healthy person. It’s all math, each gram of fat equals 9 calories, each nine calories from fat equal 1 gram of fat.

In a diet based on a daily intake of 2000 calories, eating a ½ cup of regular ice cream (depending on the brand) can mean a consumption of 200 to 300 calories (110 to 250 calories from fat alone) and 12 to 18 grams of fat (8 to 16 grams of saturated “bad” fat).

Let’s say that the ½ cup of ice cream has 11 grams of saturated fat. That’s means that there are 99 calories from fat in the ½ cup of ice cream (9 x 11= 99).

During the past 10,000, since the beginnings of widespread agriculture, we humans have learned to extract fat from food and concentrate it as cream, butter, gravy, oil, lard and so on. During the past few hundred years, since the industrial revolution, we’ve learned to mass-produce, package and even create new forms of concentrated fat. Food companies and restaurants have learned that boosting fat increases sales. Since the 1950’s, portions and fat content of fast food has grown enormously. 7-Eleven sells soda -- basically liquid candy -- in 52-ounce “Extreme Gulp” portions. 

We are just now in the process of “unlearning” these things as a result of the growing obesity epidemic. 

Humans were designed over two million years of natural selection to eat whole, low-fat foods that required a lot of activity to gather. While our food has changed enormously -- unrecognizably -- in the past 10,000 years, our DNA has not changed to acclimate itself. The result is obesity, disease and discomfort. 

High-fat, bad-fat, packaged junk food, steak, overcooked vegetables slathered in butter, fried chicken, ice cream -- all these things are considered “normal” in our culture. 

It’s time that we realized that our bodies considered them abnormal in the extreme. 

A safer consumption fats
A safer and more appropriate amount of fat for a healthy adult should be no more than 20% (less if possible) of total calorie intake. Most of it should be consumed in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat such as olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, avocados, flax seeds and wheat germ.

Saturated fat should be avoided altogether as the body is capable of making its own. If you eat saturated fat it should not exceed 5 to 8% of your total intake of daily calories (about one quarter of your daily total of fat intake).

People with heart disease and chronic illnesses should eliminate saturated fat from their diet completely.

If your diet includes dairy, meat and eggs, which are the main sources of saturated fat, you are probably consuming too much saturated fat so you should really eliminate or cut down food high in saturated fat.

Here is what we can do to reduce the amount of bad fats in our diet:

  • Eliminate from your diet fat-rich empty calorie food such as fried foods, ice cream, mayonnaise, French fries, doughnuts, burgers, other desserts, chips, crackers, other snack foods, etc.

  • Avoid eating out and prepare your own high-quality, low-fat nutritious meals

  • Avoid buying prepared, frozen, convenience fast food

  • Switch to healthy oils for cooking such as olive, safflower, canola oils

  • Reduce amounts of oil used in cooking, use spices and herbs for seasoning and more flavor instead

  • Do not overheat or burn oil. High heat and overheating of oil will alter its molecular composition and make it harmful for the body. Cold pressed oils and unrefined oils are less processed and therefore more sensitive to heat

  • Keep oils away from light and heat as they can become rancid just by exposure. Both burned and rancid oils produce trans fats or free radicals dangerous for our bodies

  • Don’t mix fresh oil with old rancid remnants

  • Never eat deep fried food

  • Reduce or eliminate consumption of meat (eat leaner meats in smaller quantities and less frequently)

  • Avoid eating too much dressing, sauce and gravy

  • Eliminate or reduce consumption of dairy or switch to low fat or fat free alternatives

  • Replace junk food with fresh organic wholesome fruit, vegetables, grains, bean and other plant-based foods alternative meats such as tofu, tempeh and seitan

  • Rely on moderate consumption of healthy oils, nuts and seeds for your dietary fat intake

  • Avoid margarine or reduce consumption of it. Buy softer margarines, which are generally better than firmer ones (choose those that list liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient on the label)

  • Read food labels and look for words that are clear indicators of higher saturated fat and trans fat content on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, soybean oil and lard

To find out if particular oil you use contains saturated fats, place the oil in a clear container in the refrigerator and see if it gets cloudy. The cloudier it gets the more saturated fat it contains (the higher temperature it will require to melt, which is how it clogs our arteries and veins). If the oil doesn’t contain saturated fat, it will remain clear. Obviously, firm fats such as some margarine, vegetable shortening and lard show that they’re completely full of saturated fat as even at room temperature will remain solid. 

Meat and milk products contain high levels of saturated fat but coconut oil contains even more saturated fat than butter and creams. Palm oil is also high in saturated fat and should be avoided.

As of January 1, 2006, all food-manufacturing companies will be required by the FDA to disclose the artery-clogging trans fatty acids on food labels. In the meantime, reading labels is important to learn all the ingredients in food, including the amount of saturated fat in it. 

Many of the commercially made food such as popcorn, doughnuts, crackers, cookies, baking mixes, breakfast cereals, snack foods and energy bars contain these silent killers. Read the nutrition label and choose products with the least grams of saturated fat. 

Be aware that food labels are often misleading and full of empty promises (it is the manufacturers’ legal prerogative) Read the food labels carefully. The amount of calories or saturated fat content may be per serving as opposed to per the entire container even if it’s a container small enough to make you assume otherwise. Pay close attention to serving size, calorie information and ingredient list.
The safest bet is to buy wholesome fresh ingredients and prepare your meals from scratch. Buy organic ingredients and read the labels carefully to make healthier selections as our dietary choices have consequences in life.
Join me for the next issue when I’ll discuss all about oils, which kinds are best for you, which to use depending on heat level you use for cooking, flavors and varieties.

I'd love to hear from you. Click here to send e-mail!

10 Steps to Healthy Homemade Meals

Too many people view the daily preparation of healthy meals as an impossible aspiration. Instead, we resort to packaged and frozen foods, restaurants and fast food. 

But healthy food can be prepared very quickly. The secret is to develop an attainable strategy and plan accordingly. 

For better results, efficiency and success, the process of menu and meal planning, food shopping and food preparation should be a family effort—not a one-person job. And it’s a wonderful way to bond and spend time and learn together—and a simple way to cultivate a close, loving and healthy family.

Here’s my top-ten list of how to make healthy meal preparation a daily event: 

1. Plan and write a weekly, semimonthly or even monthly menu for at least lunch and dinner including a variety of organic, fresh and wholesome vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, seitan and good foods. 

2. Plan on making sufficient amounts of items that are popular with the family so you have leftovers for lunch the next day. They can be warmed up as a snack or used as ingredients to create a quick and easy second meal.

3. Create a master-shopping list of all items you ever buy using categories according to the store sections you shop at (i.e. vegetables, fruit, refrigerated, bulk foods, cleaning, bakery, frozen, baking, beverage, cereals, etc.) If you shop at more than one place or store, break down list further per location or do a list for each store (i.e. Farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, etc.). The list is a “living document” that you should add to and cut from regularly. 

4. Do shopping based on menu ingredients and amounts. Before you go shopping, check fridge and pantry for items on shopping list and cross out items you don’t need.

5. Keep the menus and shopping list visible in the kitchen for easy access and reference for everyone in the family to see.

6. Schedule a food-shopping day—choose early morning or late evening hours when the stores are least crowded (never go shopping on an empty stomach). Ideally, a member of the family should take part in the process (It’s a great learning experience for kids to participate in this activity and up to you to make it pleasant, yet educational, for them).

7. Designate a couple of hours one day a week to bake tofu or cook large beans, brown rice, or any other time-consuming items.

8. Designate a couple of hours the next day after cooking beans to prepare things such as pesto sauce, hummus and dressings.

9. Set a reminder to soak beans the night before your designated day to cook beans such as pinto, black, chickpeas, navy, and all other large beans.

10. Cooking should be teamwork—everyone in the household helps—just one suggestion: make it fun, no bickering or criticism of any type.

Once you get all organized, you don’t have to worry everyday about what you’re going to cook and whether or not you have all the ingredients. Knowing that you have it all in writing takes a huge weight off your shoulders and even when you have deviate from the plan, or need to make modifications, it’s simple enough to adjust or move on.

Reader Feedback 

Your newsletter is extremely appreciated as is your husband’s Mike’s List. I have severe coronary artery disease and you’re helping me on the road to becoming a vegan.
R. K., Chicago, IL

I particularly want to share a comment or two in favor of what you wrote about family time and dinnertime in your last newsletter. Obesity can be explained in so many different ways, but in my view, likely from being brought up very differently in regards to this, what you eat is only one (albeit large) portion of the problem. How you eat is equally important. Sitting down together as a family, or with friends, teaches you a healthy attitude to food and eating; as you eat it and when you cook it and when you set the table, etc. When I grew up we never ate dinner in front of the TV, and we always ate together. I have some next-to-appalling examples of people bringing home buckets of KFC to put on the table and shouting "Dinner’s ready", whereby the kids can sit eat from the tub in front of the TV. 
L. F., Sweden

Words of Wisdom

"People who focus on possibilities achieve more over time than people who focus on limitations. I think women should get up every day and say, 'There is no barrier that is going to stop me from doing what I'm going to do.'" 

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on why she doesn't believe in the "glass ceiling" for women in business. 

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Savory Indian Chickpeas (vegan) 
Serves 4

The alluring combination of chickpeas, savory Indian spices and tomatoes make this mouth-watering dish truly irresistible. These wonderful Indian spices are widely available at any gourmet, international or health food store and many grocery stores. For individual jars, look for them in the spices section or check the bulk section to see if they’re carried in bulk where you can buy any miniscule amount you desire. Serve this dish with brown rice to make it a complete protein, and of course, fresh or lightly steamed veggies are always a healthy and nutritious addition to any meal.

Ahead of time: cook chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Equipment: Food processor or blender

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
2 tablespoons safflower or canola oil 
4 fresh garlic cloves 
1 small onion peeled and cut in 4 pieces
6 fresh plum roma tomatoes cut in quarters
3 cups cooked chickpeas (drained)
1 ½ teaspoons fresh ginger root (peeled and grated)
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

1. Heat oil on a large pot or pan over low heat. Meanwhile, finely chop garlic and onion in the food processor or blender. Keep processor handy to use again (no need to wash). In the meantime, put garlic and onion mixture in the pot stirring and sautéing for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add chickpeas and ginger, mix well, and cover with lid stirring occasionally cooking over low to medium heat for 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, puree tomatoes in the food processor well. Add tomato mixture to the chickpeas stirring well. Add cumin, turmeric and garam masala mixing thoroughly. Cover with lid and cook over low heat for 12 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Variation: Add 1 cup of fresh firm tofu cut in cubes to this dish after the tomato mixture is added (step 2). Use 7 tomatoes instead of the 6 listed on the ingredient list. Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric, ⅛ teaspoon cumin and ⅛ teaspoon garam masala to the amounts listed on the list above.


The dish that keeps on giving: A second meal using 2 cups of leftovers, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 fresh minced garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons fresh chopped onions, 1 cup fresh firm tofu cubes, 1 cup fresh or frozen diced green beans, 3 chopped plum roma tomatoes, ½ teaspoon turmeric, ¼ teaspoon cumin and ⅛ teaspoon garam masala, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 
- Heat oil over low heat and add garlic and onions sautéing for 3 minutes
- Add tofu, stir well and sauté for 5 minutes
- Add green beans and tomatoes, stir and sauté over low heat for 5 minutes 
- Stir in leftovers, turmeric, cumin and garam masala. Cook over low heat for 7 minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve.


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Comments? Please send e-mail to Amira at [email protected]


This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 By Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.