Good foods vs. bad foods just misses the point


January 25, 1994|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Contributing Writer

The fettuccine fascists have arrived!

Recent laboratory analysis of Italian food done under the direction of Centers for Science in the Public Interest turned up some surprises, as well as some shockers that are not really surprising.

What CSPI found is that pasta with red sauce is pretty low in fat, which is no big surprise. More surprising is that even when the red sauce carries meat balls or sausage, it still gets only about 30 percent of its calories from fat. In other words, it's healthier than we expected.

According to CSPI, the real shocker is that fettuccine Alfredo gets more than 50 percent of its calories from fat. (Why were they shocked by this? Alfredo sauce is made from cream, butter, cheese and eggs. How could it be anything but high in fat and cholesterol?)

What is shocking to me is a newspaper story I read, quoting a restaurateur from Little Italy. Here's what the story said: " . . . fettuccine Alfredo was taken off the menu . . . but [the owner] said he would prepare the fettuccine if a patron appears able to handle it. 'We take a quick look . . . if he's skinny as a rail, we tell him to go ahead.' "

I was stunned.

First of all, being thin is no guarantee of good health. Skinny folks can have very high cholesterol, too. Conversely, being fat doesn't guarantee high cholesterol.

Second, a restaurant is a service business, not a medical institution. Most of us go to a restaurant to have a choice and be served, not for a medical evaluation or diet prescription.

I'm sure the quoted gentleman is trying to provide a public service, and frankly, I'm glad he's offering lowfat choices. I eat out a lot, and often want meals that allow me to save up fat grams to spend somewhere else. On fettuccine Alfredo, for instance.

Two points need clearing up.

First, nutritionally, there is no one food that will trigger a heart attack or block your arteries in a single sitting. This is the heart of the American Dietetic Association's recurrent theme. There are no good foods, and there are no bad foods. It's your total diet over time that affects your health.

Second, we need to work harder on not judging people by body size. A friend lost a lot of weight but continued to feel self-conscious in public. She said she wanted to wear a sign saying, "I'm losing, I'm losing!"

It's important to note that on any cholesterol-lowering or weight-loss plan, there is room for some fat, even saturated fat. A person managing a healthy eating plan can have a little fettuccine Alfredo occasionally.

We should all applaud restaurants that offer delicious low fat, low cholesterol entrees along with the big, high-fat taste tempters. And, I'd like to see them offer half-portions of the riskier stuff, so we can all indulge moderately.

After all, a half-portion of fettuccine Alfredo still gets 50 percent of its calories from fat, but the total fat grams drop from 54 to 27. Enjoy that smaller portion along with some crusty Italian bread, salad with just a touch of olive oil dressing and a glass of red wine and you're dining well within heart-healthy guidelines.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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