5. Choose Sensibly!

You now know what kind of delicious variety you can have in your diet based on MyPyramid but the trick is you need to choose sensibly. Let me help you sort through some of the food choices that can help you win the battle of the bulge.

Choose a Diet Low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

You may be surprised to know that we do need to eat some fat. Fats supply essential fatty acids and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) in the body. But problems arise because people tend to eat too much fat. Boy—that’s big news! The real big news is you can cut the fat in your diet.

Diets high in fat—particularly saturated fat and cholesterol (both known to increase blood cholesterol levels)—have been linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, and certain types of cancer. In contrast, consuming fats from unsaturated sources (mainly from vegetable oils) does not raise blood cholesterol levels. You may have also heard about trans fats. Food corporations love these because they extend shelf life, but trans fats are not a good choice and hopefully will be banned soon. Eating too much fat of any type can cause obesity. Your diet should have no more than 35 percent of the total calories coming from fat, and even that is too high for most people. Of this 35 percent, no more than 10 percent should come from saturated fat sources.

Cyndi’s Secrets

Recommendations call for individuals to consume less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. If you eat eggs skip the egg yolk, which has an average of 215 milligrams.

Saturated fats are primarily found in foods from animal sources, like high-fat dairy products (whole milk and cheese), fatty fresh and processed meats, skin and fat on poultry, lard, and also in palm and coconut oils. Cholesterol is also found solely in animal products, primarily in the liver and other organ meats, egg yolks, dairy fats, chicken skin, fatty meats, and in some seafood. Unsaturated fats (which are the better choices) are mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts, olives, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon.


Foods high in saturated fats tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. These are found primarily in foods of animal origin. Unsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol levels and are found primarily in vegetable sources. Although a wiser choice, these are still 100 percent fat.

In order to follow these recommendations, here’s how you can reduce your fat and cholesterol intake:

  • Reduce the amount of fat you consume from animal sources, like fat on meats and in milk, butter, cream, and egg yolks.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat.
  • Remove skin from chicken and poultry before eating.
  • Select low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Limit your intake of high-fat convenience snack foods.
  • Limit foods like cookies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, margarine, and cooking oils.
  • Become familiar with sources of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Use liquid cooking spray in place of oil or butter.
  • Use whipped butter or “lite” margarine and make sure it has no trans fats.
  • Avoid fried foods; opt for baked, broiled, boiled, or grilled foods instead.
  • Substitute olive oil, canola oil, or other vegetable oils for solid fats like margarine, butter, or lard.
  • Be smart, too, and compare similar products.

Moderate Your Intake of Sugar

Limiting your intake of sugar will likely help you reduce calories, limit your risk of tooth decay, and decrease the incidence of obesity. Sugars can be found in table sugar (sucrose), or in the form of complex sugars like fructose (sugar found in fruit and honey) and lactose (sugar found in milk). Your body cannot tell the difference between the different types of sugars or whether they come from natural or refined sources—all are broken down into glucose during digestion to provide a quick source of energy. Foods high in sugar include white table and brown sugar, honey, molasses, jellies, table syrups, soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored beverages, candies, and dessert foods. Many of these foods are “discretionary calories.” These are foods that offer very few nutrients but a lot of calories. Other foods like potatoes and apples also contain sugar but provide other valuable nutrients as well, so these types of foods would not be considered empty discretionary calorie foods. After all, an apple is a better choice as a snack than a candy bar. However, remember that it is okay to “budget” a candy bar on occasion if you choose it as your “extra” calories.

Cyndi’s Secrets

There is no benefit to using honey over sugar. Your body cannot distinguish between table sugar and the complex sugars found in honey, fruit, or milk. It cannot tell whether sugar comes from a natural or refined source.

The USDA recommends limiting added sugars in the diet to 6 to 10 percent of total daily calories. (Each teaspoon of sugar equals about 16 calories.) If you eat 1,200 calories per day, that equals no more than 72 to 120 calories from sugar, or 4½ to 7½ teaspoons; if you eat 1,600 calories per day, that means no more than 96 to 160 calories from sugar, or 6 to 10 teaspoons per day; and if you eat 2,200 calories per day, that means no more than 132 to 220 calories from sugar, or 8 to 14 teaspoons.

Sugar is found in obvious food choices, like candies, cookies, cakes, and pastries, but also it can be found in not-so-obvious food choices, like milk, breads, and fruits. But keep in mind that the foods that contain sugar (those empty-calorie foods) and no other nutrition are the ones with which you need to be concerned.

Now, look at some of your favorite foods to see how many teaspoons of sugar they contain. To do so, look at the nutrition facts label, find the grams of sugar, and divide this number by four. In the case of a 12-ounce can of soft drink, we find it has 41 grams of sugar. Divided by four, that equals 10 teaspoons. Wow!


  YOUR Life

Soft drinks are the number one contributor of sugar in the American diet. A 12-ounce can of regular soft drink contributes 10 teaspoons of sugar alone.

Choose and Prepare Foods with Less Salt

Try to limit your salt (or sodium) intake. Too much salt in the diet is linked with high blood pressure. Many foods add salt to the diet, including processed foods, soups, luncheon meats, snack foods, and beverages.

Sodium is important to the body in regulating fluids and blood pressure. Unfortunately, too much sodium in the diet can also cause a person to retain fluids and, as a result, increase the numbers on the scale due to an increase in water weight. It is recommended that you use no more than 2,400 milligrams per day (or 1 teaspoon of salt per day) max.

Check out these tips on reducing your overall salt intake:

  • Limit table salt added to foods during preparation.
  • Keep your eye open for nutrition labels on processed dinners, convenience foods, crackers, chips, nuts, and seeds, all known to contribute extra sodium.
  • Remove the saltshaker from the table. When you shake you have no idea how much is coming out.
  • Limit intake of processed foods and luncheon meats.
  • Select canned vegetables, soups, and broths without added salt.
  • Watch your condiments—ketchup, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, pickles and relish, olives, mustard—all guilty of containing sodium.
  • Substitute herbs and spices for salt in flavoring foods.

If You Drink Alcohol, Do So in Moderation

The final dietary guideline offers a message about alcohol consumption. Although not considered a food, alcoholic beverages do contain calories but no other nutrients.

When consumed in large amounts, drinking alcohol can be harmful, even dangerous. A high consumption of alcohol can lead to various health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach and liver problems, and brain damage. And because of its high calorie content, drinking excessive alcoholic beverages can contribute to obesity. Recommendations continue to suggest limiting consumption to no more than one drink each day for women and two drinks each day for men.

An alcoholic drink refers to any of the following:

  • 1 ounce (80 proof) distilled spirits (70 calories)
  • 12 ounces regular beer (150 calories)
  • 12 ounces light beer (90 calories)
  • 4 ounces wine (80 calories)
  • 2 ounces sherry (75 calories)
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