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Published on July 20, 2016

Low-fat or low-sugar; what's the best approach to healthful eating?

Eating healthfully can be confusing; some diets promote fat restriction, while others preach cutting out sugar. But what's the best approach to achieve healthful eating habits? Here's the weigh-in on fat and sugar:

  • The low-down on fat. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends using more unsaturated fats, such as those found in oils, nuts, seeds and fatty fish, and using less saturated and trans fats found in animal-based foods. Other than having health benefits, fat provides flavor to our food and increases our satiety. Cutting out fat in a food product often means the manufacturer will use sugar or salt to maintain the palatability of the food, yet often still results in a less flavorful version. So rather than eating a large bowl of fat-free frozen yogurt that tastes "blah," you may be more satisfied with one scoop of a rich and flavorful full-fat ice cream.
  • The skinny on sugar. The average American consumes more than 13 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories. Added sugars can be found in foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and refined or processed foods such as snack foods, desserts, cereals and even canned pasta sauce. Added sugars do not include sugars that are naturally found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. Drinking fewer sweetened beverages and increasing consumption of whole foods can help most people reduce their intake of added sugars.

The bottom line: Fat and sugar in moderation are both important in a healthy diet. Rather than picking apart the nutrition facts label in every food on the shelf, look at the overall picture of what you're eating. Prioritize whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein sources and dairy, and minimize processed foods. Also, remember the 80/20 guideline—eat to satisfy physical hunger and to fuel your body with nutritious foods 80-90 percent of the time, and eat for pleasure 10-20 percent of the time.

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