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Do You Need Fat-Free Products?

By Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM

"This is an article from the introductory issue of Nutrition Conditioning for Life Performance, a newsletter available through Heidi Skolnik, a nutrionist I have been using since 1996, when I had real problems with glycogen depletion during the Olympic Trials. Here's what she wrote about me at the time:
'EE visited Dr. Lewis Maharam, a sports medicine doctor in NYC. He recognized her complaints instantly -- feeling deadlegged and fatigued, hitting the wall in the middle of the race. Hey -- it may seem an old story to those who have been paying attention to sports nutrition but it is still so common -- EE wasn't eating enough carbohydrates!
And so, Elizabeth's nutrition journey to improved levels of performance, health, well being and awareness began. It isn't easy strategizing food around training, travel and race days. It takes a lot of thought and planning to figure out how much is enough and how to adjust food consumption based on time on the bike, intensity and terrain. Food availability based on where in the world (literally) you are visiting is a whole other element in determining what to eat.'
If you're intested in the newsletter, call (212) 787-9082 or send an email to NutritionCo@aol.com; subscriptions are $11.95 per year." -- EE

Have you ever delved into a box of cookies, evened off the edges of a cake, or taken a few extra spoonfuls of a frozen dessert, each of which was labeled fat-free and thought "Hey, it's FAT-FREE, I can have more!" It's true that, as athletes, you need more calories than a sedentary person. It may be that if you are eating too much fat you are not eating enough carbohydrates, or you may be consuming too few calories. Some fat-free products allow you to eat extra carbohydrates without extra fat. Fat-free products also allow you to substitute no fat alternatives for higher fat items. Take note, however, that the calories in fat-free products STILL "COUNT."

What else can you eat for 300 calories?
Often, the calories in fat-free products are quite high as sugar replaces fat for taste. For example, one Snackwell chocolate cookie has 60 calories. Eating five cookies (because they are fat-free) contributes an extra 300 calories to your daily intake. Although the cookies are fat-free, they provide little else in the way of nutrients except carbohydrates. For comparison, for the same 300 calories you could have fruit and yogurt or a turkey sandwich, or one cup of pasta with two meatballs (all of which would provide your body with protein, essential vitamins and minerals along with carbohydrate), or a candy bar.

How much fat do you need?
The amount of fat you need each day is determined by your fitness level, your size, your activity level and your goals. A sedentary person may need between 40 and 83 grams a day. As an athlete burning more than 3,000 calories a day you may need as much as 100-150 grams a day.

Top 10 fat facts
 1.Fat is a part of all cell membranes
 2. Fat is a part of some hormones and prostaglandins (hormone-like substances)
 3. Fat is a part of nerve sheaths (coverings)
 4. Fat is a part of digestive secretions that help digestion work properly
 5. Dietary fat supplies essential nutrients needed for life that we cannot manufacture -- lineolic acid -- found in plants (oils)
 6. Carries and helps absorbtion of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E , and K)
 7. Extra fat is stored as adipose tissue (body fat) -- stored energy
 8. Thermal insulation -- the body fat just under the skin helps hold in heat
 9. Protects organs -- surrounds internal organs and provides a cushion against movement and bumps
10. Fat provides energy; at nine calories a gram, dietary fat provides double the calories of carbohydrates or protein (at four calories per gram)
THINK about the quality of the fat you take in -- is it cholesterol-raising saturated or the healthier mono/unsaturated plant-based fat? THINK about the essential intentional fat and the hidden (unintentional) fat in your diet. Make choices based on your fat budget, health and performance goals.

Identify the hidden (unintentional) fat. For instance, one tablespoon of mayonnaise has 12 grams of fat and one croissant has 12 grams of fat, as does one tablespoon of salad dressing. A Whopper with cheese has 45 grams of fat, a pint of Haggen-Daas has 89 grams of fat, one quarter cup of nuts has 17 grams of fat and a small glazed donut ten grams of fat. By comparison, a turkey sandwich has only eight grams of fat, eight ounces of sirloin has 24 and two slices of whole grain bread contributes only two grams of fat.

Making room for fat?
You may choose to reduce hidden fat to save room for intentional fat. For example, choose a low-fat salad dressing, use less mayo and limit fried foods to two timers a week (or less -- fried foods are always high in undesirable fat). Choose leaner cuts of red meat, poultry, and fish two-three times a week. Then add some nuts (which are mono-unsaturated fat and rich in protein and vitamin E). Use olive oil when possible. Even choose cheese, which is high in saturated fat, but at least gives your body needed calcium and protein. Choose whole-grain breads instead of buttery, saturated fat baked good; but periodically enjoy some chocolate (intentional fat) or ice cream instead.

Do you need more fat?
Although fat-free products can help you reduce some sources of saturated fat or unintentional fat in your diet, fat-free products still have calories, and often are full of sugar and lack any significant nutrients -- vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals. Think about the quality of the calories you consume. Depending on your sport and training schedule, you may need more fat than you imagined just to keep you calories at an appropriate level.


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