Writing The Wrongs Of Too Much Fat

August 07, 1991|By Carleton Jones

"If the food label doesn't spell out the fat content, assume the worst . . . People who eat M&M's may have a sweet tooth, but they've got a fat tooth, too, for M&M's are 80 percent fat. . . . Two percent milk is actually 38 percent fat."

These are among the gems of Joe Piscatella, the fat food warrior, as he continues his relentless campaign against clogged arteries -- a mission he has honed to a science in three volumes, the latest of which he calls "Controlling Your Fat Tooth," (Workman Publishing 1991, $15.95).

According to Mr. Piscatella's reading of U. S. dietary habits, it isn't necessarily the calories or the cholesterol that counts. It isn't sweets, either; it's fat that's really laying American males and females low. All those burgers and pizzas and fried stuff. His message for eaters is that they must dump all foods with useless fats -- because today, he says, fats are responsible for 37 percent of the calories in the U. S. diet.

If you are through with the chronic fatigue syndrome diet and the endocrine control diet and the I-just-don't-know-what-all-diet, you might scan Mr. Piscatella's formulas for ideas.

"People really are trying to do right thing today by their diet," he said in a recent interview. They have taken to skim milk and butter substitutes and salads, greens and fruit. They've made other helpful moves, but on the fat issue "they're being misled by food-industry labeling," said the author.

What prompted the author's mission, his war on fat?

One thing was that he was forced to undergo bypass surgery on his heart while in his early 30s. "There was no history anywhere at all of coronary trouble in my family," he relates. He is convinced that all the trouble was caused by the outrageously high-fat American diet.

Basic to Mr. Piscatella's mission is the message that the public has a monolithic misconception -- the idea that "starchy foods" like potatoes and pasta "are rich in calories and should be avoided." Today "nutritionists counsel just the opposite: If you want to lose weight, eat more starchy foods" but do it without butter, sour cream or other fatty toppings, he urges.

In the author's opinion, the often-scorned canned goods, especially beans, can be a useful dietary item, but they should always be rinsed to cut down on the salt content. He is less enthusiastic about "light" packaged foods, frozen and otherwise.

A wild variation in the amount of fat in foods confronts today's consumer in many of these items, and is revealed in the small print on labeling required by recent legislation, the author demonstrates. The weight of fats (per serving) is shown in grams; Mr. Piscatella says women should limit their fat to about 40 grams per day and men to a top of 60 grams per day. (The national average figures today are about 100 for men and 65 for women.)

To help out, he publishes elaborate tables estimating the gram ratings of fast foods. Burger King's Whopper, he reports, is worth 35 grams, or nearly all the allowance for women in one sandwich, while three slices of bacon only rate 10 grams and a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich on white bread, 15 grams. "A Wendy's triple cheeseburger is the equivalent of eating two-thirds of a stick of butter," Mr. Piscatella warns.

The variations in fat content can be illustrated, Mr. Piscatella says, by comparing the fat content of the leading national brand of chicken soup with that of mushroom soup. The latter has eight times more fat in it than does the same manufacturer's chicken noodle soup, he says. The number eight also pops up, too, in the author's estimate of overall fat in U. S. dining, eight times what is needed for vitamin absorption, a worrisome margin.

The growth of the "light" labeling of products has Mr. Piscatella worried, too. Light is all too loosely interpreted by the packaging industry. "In olive oils, it means the color is light," Mr. Piscatella contends. Sarah Lee's "lite" cheesecake actually has more fat than its regular brand, the crusader reports. In other foods, "light" simply refers to the texture of the food.

To find your way to truly "light" food, shop for a product that shows a low fat ratio. It'll take a little quick figuring on the spot, but low fat-foods are those that contain no more than 3 grams of fat for every 100 calories, as shown on labels.

Mr. Piscatella says certain "pop" foods, such as croissants, that have come on strong in the United States, moving from high cuisine to fast food, are tasty but irredeemably bad news for dieters, since they cannot be made without real butter in saturating amounts.

On the optimistic side, it's a mistake to think that you must dodge sugary goodies that are commonly believed to be fattening. Longing for chocolate icing (glaze style) on cake? Try mixing a cup of powdered sugar sifted with 2 tablespoons of cold, non-fat milk and a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. Dribble the chocolate glaze on your favorite packaged angel food cake mix ("Betty Crocker's is good," the author reports).

"It should be clearly understood that there is nothing inherently wrong with dietary fat," the author maintains. It's just that when more calories are taken in than the body can use immediately, the extra is stored as body fat. Unfortunately, he adds, the human body has a "virtually unlimited ability" to store more fat than is needed over the short term.

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