04 February 2008

How to cut fat

Fat makes fat. In terms of weight management, it is a killer: 1g of fat has almost twice as many kilojoules as 1g of carbohydrate or protein. Here's how to cut your intake.

Fat makes fat. In terms of weight management, it is a killer: 1g of fat has almost twice as many kilojoules as 1g of carbohydrate or protein. Too much fat can also be bad for your heart.

It clearly makes sense to cut fat intake, yet you do need to include some fat in your diet – your body simply can't function without it.

It isn't hard to get the balance right. The golden rule is to limit unhealthy fats, mainly saturated fats from animal products and trans fatty acids (like hard margarine, coffee creamers and coconut); and to include healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plant oils (canola and olive oil, avocado pear and peanut butter).

In terms of lowering your overall fat intake, here are a few useful tips:

  • Always choose low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products. These options can also sometimes replace cream in recipes.
  • Go for soft rather than hard margarines.
  • Wait until toast has cooled before spreading margarine or butter onto it, and spread thinly.
  • Choose lower-fat (sometimes labelled light or "lite") options for mayonnaise, bottled salad dressings and margarines, and use them sparingly.
  • Avoid using two "fats" (for instance butter plus peanut butter, or mayonnaise plus avocado) on bread. Choose one, and don't go overboard.
  • Remove all visible fat from meat before preparation. Steer clear of the skin of chicken and other poultry (ideally remove it prior to cooking; if not, definitely remove it before eating).
  • Eat red meat only two or three times a week. Use lean meat options, such as lean mince, lean beef or lamb, ostrich or venison. Just so you know, the fattiest meat is lamb, followed by beef, pork, chicken, ostrich and then venison.
  • Eat fish (fresh or canned) once or twice a week.
  • Avoid processed meats such as ham and salami.
  • Don't add extra fat - margarine, butter, cream, mayonnaise, oil or cheese - during food preparation.
  • Concentrate on low-fat cooking methods where possible. Boil, steam, grill, braai over the coals, bake in the oven or poach wherever you can. When you need to fry, it's useful to know that a stir-fry in a non-stick wok or pan requires just a drop of oil. Another trick is to get your pan good and hot before you add canola or olive oil - you'll need to use much less. Better still check out the "fat-free frying" methods below.
  • Limit gravies and sauces.
  • Read nutrition labels for fat content - don't rely on packaging declarations. A product is "low fat" if it contains less than 3g fat/100g and "fat free" if it has less than 0.5g fat/100g. There's a wide range of foods that have a fat content of between 3% and 10%; aim for 10 to 13g fat per meal.

Fat-free frying
The way in which you prepare food can go a long way towards lowering the fat content of your meals. When browning meat, chicken or vegetables, stock with water or vegetable juices can be used instead of oil. A non-stick frying pan is useful, but not essential. There will be little difference in the flavour of the final dish, although sautéing food without using oil or butter does take a little longer.

Simply follow these steps when doing fat-free frying:

  • Fill a teacup halfway with boiling water and add a teaspoon of stock powder. Stir until dissolved and then fill the cup to the top with red or white wine. If you don’t drink alcohol, vegetable juice or apple juice can be used instead.
  • Place chopped onion to sauté in a frying pan over high heat. Toss the onion with a wooden spoon as it begins to cook. When it starts to brown and stick to the pan, add a few teaspoons of the stock mixture to the pan (enough to cause a cloud of steam without making the onion simmer).
  • Continue tossing until the onion begins to stick again and then pour in the rest of the stock mixture, stirring until the brownish residue has lifted off the bottom of the pan.
  • Cover with a lid and leave for 5-10 minutes until the fluid has reduced and the onions will be soft, brown and slightly caramelised.
  • Add other ingredients, proceding as you normally would.

- (Health24, January 2008)

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