Fat in the Diet
Fat is a difficult substance to replace because it has many important functions. A major nutrient, it is important for proper growth and development and maintenance of good health. Fats carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and aid their absorption in the intestine. They are the only source of the essential fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids. They are an important source of calories for many adults and for infants and toddlers, who have the highest energy needs per kilogram of body weight of any age group. Fat provides 9 calories per gram, compared with 4 calories per gram for protein and carbohydrates.
As a food ingredient, fat is important in food preparation and consumption because it gives taste, consistency, stability, and palatability to foods and helps us feel full so we stop eating.
But there are limits on the amount we should eat because of fats' link to heart disease, cancer and overweight. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans
recommend limiting total fat intake to no more than 30 percent of calories and saturated fat to no more than 10 percent. Cholesterol intake should be limited to no more than 300 milligrams a day. Saturated fat and cholesterol are the substances in fat that contribute to the formation of plaque, which clogs arteries, leading to heart disease.
Americans appear to be heeding the experts' advice because, according to a 1995 annual survey by the Food Marketing Institute--an organization of grocery retailers and wholesalers--65 percent of the consumers surveyed--the highest level to date--rated fat as their No. 1 nutrition concern. More than three-fourths of the consumers said they stopped buying a specific food because of the amount of fat listed on the nutrition label.
A 1995 survey by the Calorie Control Council--an international association of manufacturers of low-calorie, low-fat, and diet foods and beverages--found that 72 percent of respondents who said they look for "light" foods said they are most attracted to food products claiming to be "reduced in fat."
Manufacturers are responding by adding more and more reduced-fat foods to their product lines. That corresponds to the Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2000 goal of increasing to 5,000 from 2,500 in 1986 the number of brand items reduced in fat and saturated fat.