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Fats have more flavor--a fact that was not lost on the editors of COOKING LIGHT magazine. Since the mid-1990s, they have slipped a modicum of butter into their recipes. "You have to make food enjoyable," says Jill G. Melton, senior editor of COOKING LIGHT (which, like TIME, is owned by AOL Time Warner). "If something tastes bad, you're not going to want it again."
Just remember that there's a smart way to include fat in your diet and lots of unhealthy ones. Good fats contain double the calories (9 calories per gram) of either proteins or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram). So there's little room for error. If you eat nuts, you're going to have to eat less of something else.
What about the Mediterranean diet? you ask. Researchers have long been fascinated by the traditional Greek and Italian diets of the 1960s, which contained as much as 40% fat but didn't trigger a lot of heart attacks. Don't assume that what worked for Greeks and Italians 40 years ago will work for you. After all, they typically ate a pound of fruit a day (equal to four medium apples) and little red meat, and many of them got lots of exercise tilling fields and tending livestock. "The Mediterranean diet works well in the Mediterranean," says Yale's Katz. "My concern about it in the U.S. is that people will continue to go to Burger King but just dump olive oil over their French fries."
You can go overboard trying to avoid trans fat. Yes, there is a small amount of trans fat in whole milk, but whole milk is what most pediatricians recommend for children from the age of 1 to 2. Their brains need all kinds of fats to develop properly. After they reach age 2, you've got to be on the lookout for saturated fats as well. "You don't want people to think trans fats are the only bad guys," says Alice Lichtenstein, a nutrition professor at Tufts University in Boston and a frequent spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. "If a cracker has 2% trans and 2% saturated fat, it's better than 7% saturated and 0% trans." Finally, no matter how low McDonald's reduces the amount of trans fat in its French fries, they are never going to be a health food. Which brings us to ...
THE POTATO FACTOR
It's not that spuds are so bad; it's that they're misunderstood--not to mention deep-fried and drowned in sour cream and cheese. America's much beloved tuber definitely has a dual personality. A good source of potassium (particularly if you eat the skin) and a great thickener for soups, the potato still doesn't have all the benefits bestowed by more colorful produce like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and green beans.
This problem of mistaken identity extends to quite a few of the foods we commonly call carbohydrates. First, a tiny rant about the word carbohydrate. When nutritionists first advised us to replace some of the fats in our diets with complex carbohydrates, what they had in mind was beans, fruits, leafy green vegetables and whole grains. What we loaded up on was pasta, white rice and French fries. Technically, we were following the rules, but by focusing on these highly processed or refined foods, we were missing out on a lot of antioxidants and other important nutrients. And we found out, much to the detriment of our waistlines, that it's a whole lot easier to overeat pasta, rice and potatoes than apples and broccoli.