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How to watch out for hidden fat

It’s easy to fight an enemy you can see. But how do you defend yourself against diet demons — fat, sugar and salt — that are the masters of camouflage? Here's how you can defend yourself against these masked predators.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2010 20:25 IST
Sai Raje

foodWhen it comes to food, it seems as though everybody is trying to avoid that evil trinity of health-hell these days — salt, sugar and fat.

Our couch potato lifestyles have left us battling conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity, all of which need you to curb those salty fries and chocolate shake cravings.

Which makes you think, how difficult can it really be to identify food that’s dripping with sugar, fat or salt, right? Very difficult, apparently, because according to nutritionists, there are invisible sources of these nutrients too that may not immediately strike you as being unhealthy food choices. This means you may be blissfully unaware of how rich a particular food is in salt, sugar or fat and may be continuing to consume copious quantities of it thinking it’s healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol and generally the perfect diet food.

So how can you defend yourself against these masked predators? Learn to be aware, always read the fine print on product labels on processed foods and know where the enemy lurks.

Sugar isn’t only concentrated in mithais and potato chips isn’t the lone foodstuff with heaps of salt. And while avoiding fried food is one way of cutting down your fat intake, other healthy seeming food can hide fat very well too.

Fat attack
Enough has been said already about the flipside of eating a fat-rich diet. From heart disease to diabetes and obesity, the dangers are many. So apart from cutting down on visible fats like cooking oils, butter etc, there are three main invisible sources of fats - meats, dairy and oils from tree nuts - that you should watch out for if you are trying t keep your fat intake in check.

“Invisible fats can make losing weight difficult for those trying to maintain a limited fat diet,” says Panjwani.

Invisible sources of fat
Whole milk
Egg yolks
Nuts - peanuts, walnuts, cashewnuts
Processed food containing the above

Salt pans out
The recommended salt or sodium intake for 19-50-year olds is 1500 mg per day. And it’s 1300 mg per day for those in the 51-70 age group. But many processed foods contain more than these recommended amounts of sodium.

“About 75 per cent of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, including processed foods So, before you assume that you don’t eat too much salt, take a look at what you’re buying, as well as how you use salt at home,” advises nutritionist Mehar Panjwani.

Invisible sources of salt
Breakfast cereal
Breads like bagels, ciabatta
Cooking and pasta sauces
Ready to eat meals or soups
Tomato ketchup
Store bought mayonnaise
Soy sauce
Processed meat like bacon

That doesn’t mean you stop eating salt altogether. “It’s good to cut down on how often you eat these products because a diet too rich in sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart related problems,” says Panjwani.

Sugar, sugar
The biggest masked predator of them all - sugar. “It also lurks under different names in products that you might never suspect,” says Panjwani.

And while sugar and other simple carbohydrates play a part in a well balanced diet, even for diabetics, she adds that hidden sources of sugar can wreak havoc with the best nutritional plans.

“Apart from usual suspects such as table sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, honey and maple syrup, there are other kinds of sugar like lactose, maltose and fructose that are found in many products. Even though fructose (natural sugar occuring in fruits) doesn’t affect blood sugar levels as easily as sucrose, it is still a sugar and must be counted as a simple carbohydrate when you’re trying to keep track of it all,” says Panjwani.

Invisible sources of sugar
Chewing gum and fresh breath mints, which contain sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol
Breakfast cereals
Processed ready-to-eat-meals or soups
Pasta and cooking sauces or masalas
Bottled juice and fizzy drinks

Label smart
You can avoid the trap of including unwanted and hidden salt, sugars and fat in your diet by being smart about reading ingredients and nutrition labels on food products that are bought off the supermarket shelves. Here are some tips:
No fat or fat free: Contains less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving

Lower or reduced fat: Contains at least 25 per cent less per serving than the reference food. (An example might be reduced fat cream cheese, which would have at least 25 per cent less fat than original cream cheese.)

Low fat: Contains less than 3 grams of fat per serving

Lite: Contains 1/3 the calories or 1/2 the fat per serving of the original version or a similar product

No calories or calorie free: Contains less than 5 calories per serving

Low calories: Contains 1/3 the calories of the original version or a similar product

Sugar free: Contains less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving

Reduced sugar: at least 25% less sugar per serving than the reference food

No preservatives: Contains no preservatives (chemical or natural)

No preservatives added: Contains no added chemicals to preserve the product. Some of these products may contain natural preservatives.

Low sodium: contains less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving

No salt or salt free: Contains less than 5 mgs of sodium per serving

High fibre: 5 g or more per serving (Foods making high-fibre claims must meet the definition for low fat, or the level of total fat must appear next to the high-fibre claim)

Good source of fibre: 2.5 g to 4.9 g. per serving

More or added fibre: Contains at least 2.5 g more per serving than the reference food

If the nutrition label lists either monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder or soy sauce as one of its primary ingredients, look for other lower sodium options.