COLLEGE STATION — Americans may know that fat has few benefits, but even when they watch their fat intake, an increasing number are still overweight.
Researchers believe part of the reason for the increase in obesity is continuing physical inactivity, said Carol Suter, professor and nutrition specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the average American diet in 1990 contained 34 percent of total calories from fat, down 2 percentage points from 1978 and 6 percentage points from the 1960s. Additional center figures reveal that the proportion of overweight Americans increased from 25 percent to 33 percent in the last 10 years.
Studies show only 40 percent of Americans exercise at the minimum recommended level of three strenuous workouts per week, Suter said. Sports participation is down 10 percent from 1990 and jobs are more sedentary. Television, video games, and fewer physical education classes also contribute to inactivity.
However, a couch potato life-style isn’t the sole factor increasing obesity, Suter said. Excess calories also play a role.
Although Americans are reducing their consumption of fat, they are increasing intake of other nutrients. When calories from any source are eaten and not burned, weight is gained.
“We have been placing much emphasis on watching out for fat in the diet, but we also need to be aware of other food ingredients,” Suter said. “Counting grams of fat is a good idea, but total calories consumed and having enough exercise on a daily basis remain the key factors in maintaining ideal weight.”
Too much of any food isn’t good, Suter said. A person can gain weight from overeating carbohydrates — especially refined sugars which often are part of sweet foods. Having more sugar and other carbohydrates than the body needs for energy results in extra calories being stored as fat.
“Weight results from the balance of calorie intake and calorie expenditure,” she said. “Therefore, it is very important to try to spend enough calories through exercise to balance the number of calories you eat.”
Suter recommends selecting the number of servings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid that best fits your activity level and sex.
If you eat fewer than 1,600 calories, it is difficult to obtain the nutrients you need, she said. A person should consume at least the lowest number of recommended servings from each food group.
Researchers have developed several fat replacers to aid Americans in their fight against obesity and fat. Replacing fat (9 calories per gram) with carbohydrate- or protein-based fat replacers (4 calories per gram) may be a good start to reducing overall calories and fat.
But watch the label. Some reduced-fat products add extra carbohydrate to maintain good taste. In those cases, weight watchers may find the calorie count of the reduced fat product about the same as the regular product.
“A good rule of thumb is to follow the principles of the food guide pyramid,” Suter said. “Practice balance, moderation, and proportionality. Include enough exercise as a part of your daily lifestyle.
“So eat right, get moving and make tracks.”