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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Weight Control


The low-fat binge

Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S., Northwest Regional Nutrition Specialist, Nodaway County, University of Missouri Extension


America is on a binge of no-fat and low-fat foods. But the binge is not calorie free, and the result is that Americans are eight pounds heavier than ten years ago. And one-third of us are obese, up from one-fourth just ten years ago.

What’s happening? It all comes down to portion control and less physical activity. If one devils food cake cookie is enough, you don’t have permission to have two, three or four if they are no-fat. The ingredient that replaces the fat is a carbohydrate, which is full of calories, so if you read the labels comparing the fat and no-fat versions you will most likely find that the calories per serving are similar.

Is our obsession with fat-free foods a surprise? Not totally. When non-nutritive sweeteners like NutraSweet or Equal came on the market, consumers binged on them too. Instead of seeing pounds drop from regular users, the pounds actually increased slowly.

The ingredient designed to be a help to those who wanted to enjoy sweet foods but couldn’t because of diabetes has been used by others as a license to eat more. Many thought they were trading off more calories than they were. A tablespoon of sugar has 45 calories (15 per teaspoon).

Portion control and recognizing the recommended serving sizes is the key to getting our diets under control — not fat-free or sugar-free products.

For example, how much liquid does your juice glass hold? A serving of juice is 3/4 cup. A typical short, fat juice glass holds 12 ounces or 1 cups, which is two servings. How much cereal does your cereal bowl hold? A serving is equal to one ounce and the volume varies from cereal to cereal so read the label.

Servings, according to the Food Guide Pyramid, mean portions needed for a healthy diet, not eating episodes. When the food groups were designed years ago they were designed to help us consume a variety of foods. The Food Guide Pyramid also does that, but helps us to avoid overeating if we follow the plan. Sticking to plain, simple foods in reasonable portions is our best bet to get in control. The more we rely on low-fat, non-fat and sugar-free foods to help us maintain our weight or reach our diet goals, the more likely we are to fail.

For more information on the Food Guide Pyramid, check out these University of Missouri Extension publications: MyPyramid for Adults or Building My Body: Getting to Know MyPyramid.


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Last update: Tuesday, September 28, 2010