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EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY THAT ALL FOODS AREN'T SO HIGH IN FAT

BLUBBER-WISE, these are dangerous days.
As anyone knows who ever loosened the belt a notch or had a dress seam burst, the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day are the worst of times.

Parties, drinking, eating, parties, eating, drinking. Love handles inflate, guts grow, thighs soften, saddlebags appear.

It doesn't have to happen.

As a public service, we present the Holiday Guide to Eating, a handy reference for those who'd rather not gain five pounds by New Year's.

It's an unfortunate fact, but most things that taste good register high on the Lard-O-Meter.

No more than one-third of what we eat should be in fat calories. For men, that's 40 to 60 grams of fat a day; for women, 20 to 40.

The informed holiday eater can separate the really bad from the not-so-bad. This can mean the difference between blimping out and breaking even.

Some of the usual suspects aren't as bad as generally regarded. Some of the foods with a good public image, fat-wise, don't deserve it.

A few hypothetical holiday scenarios:

You're at a party. You eye the snack table. There's a bowl of peanuts, a bowl of potato chips and a bowl of pretzels. Which to thrust a paw into?

If you want to get huge, grab the chips or the peanuts. Both have more than 10 times the fat of the pretzels.

Nuts in general are notoriously fat-laden. Same for chips and their rhymin' relations (Cheetos, Fritos, Doritos).

Snack table No. 2: Chocolate candy kisses, popcorn and a cheese tray.

And the winner is -- popcorn! Even when popped in oil, only two fat grams per cup (air-popped has one-tenth of that). Just don't load up on the butter.

Cheese tray? Let's put it this way. If you're ever photographed holding up a bank, hire the public relations people who have the cheese account. For reasons unclear, cheese has a great public image. It's natural, wholesome -- and fat-heavy. One ounce, which isn't much, of most kinds has about eight grams of fat.

Candy kisses? Eighteen grams of fat per dozen.

Low-fat surprises, candy-wise: Good 'n' Plenty, gumdrops, hard candy and Ronald Reagan's favorite, jelly beans.

Obviously, this low-fat thing has its limits. You don't want to go to a party carrying a bag of lettuce leaves. Unless, of course, you don't want anyone to talk to you.

There is a middle ground. Considerate hosts will provide some decent-tasting alternatives to the Fat Brigade.

Not too fat-heavy yet still edible: The aforementioned pretzels and popcorn. Some crackers and cookies (grahams, Wheat Thins, Saltines, Fig Newtons). Plain bread sticks. Fruit (except avocados). Raw vegetables, for the truly committed.

Dip-wise, those with a tomato base, such as salsa, excite the taste buds without assaulting the waistline. Some low-fat yogurt dips aren't bad. Basically, if a dip is heavy in cheese, mayonnaise or sour cream, it will be heavy on you.

Scrumptious but low-fat dessert: Pudding made with skim milk.

For the conscientious, there are some Musts to Avoid.

For starters, some of the most beloved fodder in our town.

Hate to ruin the holiday buffet, but few things are worse for the waist than a chicken wing dipped in blue cheese. Most of the fat on poultry is in the skin, and even the meatiest wings are half-skin. Wings are fried, and anything fried is not on your side. Plus the blue cheese.

Then there's pepperoni pizza. About 20 grams of fat per slice.

Another Must to Avoid: eggnog. Sorry, holiday revelers, but we're talking eggs, heavy cream and whole milk. Indulge at your own risk. A small mug packs about 18 grams of fat.

Year-round tip: Skim milk instead of whole milk or allegedly low-fat (2 percent) milk. The 2 percent stuff has 10 times the fat of skim. Whole milk has twice the fat of the 2 percent. You get used to the taste of skim milk in a week, which is small price to pay.

Having a Mother Earth-type holiday? Pass up the peanut butter, trail mix and that old hippie staple, granola (20 grams of fat per cup).

No problem, you say? I'll indulge at parties and have salad for lunch every day.

Unfortunately, salad eaters often betray their own best intentions.

How? By drowning the greens in fat-loaded salad dressing.

A mere tablespoon of Caesar, Italian or blue cheese dressing packs about eight grams of fat. Ladle it on a salad and you might as well have had the cheeseburger. The equivalent low-calorie dressings have anywhere from one-fifth to one-tenth the fat of the regular stuff.

Thus armed, we go into holiday battle. Good luck, and pass the popcorn.

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