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You have to eat fat. You can't avoid it. Even if you never bring a touch of butter or oil to your lips, you'll be consuming fat in some form.
In fact, fat is a very important nutrient. Your body can't do without it. Your brain is cushioned in a protective layer of fat. Your cell walls are made up of fat. Certain essential vitamins can only dissolve in fat, so your health depends on it too.

The question is, how much fat? When you eat lots of carbohydrate, much of the excess is stored as glycogen for energy later. But when you eat lots of fat, it gets stored as, well, fat.

There's another question. What kind of fat? Some kinds of fat help make cholesterol, and too much of that can contribute to heart disease. Other kinds of fat have real, health-giving benefits.

So what makes up a low fat meal? The official guidelines recommend that 30% or less of the total calories you eat should come from fat. The rest of your calories should come mainly from carbohydrates, and about 15 to 20% of your diet from protein.

The trouble is, it's easy to blow your 30% allowance. Fat is more fattening on its calorie count alone! One gram of fat contains 9 calories, more than twice the amount in a gram of carbohydrate or protein.

If you want to be serious about low-fat eating, you need a way of counting fat grams. You can buy special calorie counting books which also indicate fat grams. There are also a number of software programs and even Internet sites that will help you count calories and fat.

If you just want to be wise about low-fat eating, you simply need to become aware of what foods are naturally high in fat.

Red meat is not only high in fat, it's high in the kind of fat that can contribute to heart disease. These are called saturated fats and the interesting thing about them is that they are solid at room temperature. So think about butter, which is an animal fat, and coconut butter, which is a vegetable fat. They are both solid at room temperature and you are wise to avoid them.

Chicken skin is very high in fat. If you love chicken skin, just remove it from the chicken and cook it over a gentle heat, pouring off the fat regularly into a heatproof container. When you see how much fat you get just from the skin, you'll think again about eating it. Chicken without skin is medium in fat. Most fish is very low in fat. The oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, have about the same amount of fat as chicken.

Seeds and nuts are very high in fat. Just think of the kinds of oil you can buy: olive, sunflower, peanut, walnut, sesame ... the list goes on forever. If you can make an oil from it, use it very sparingly.

Cheeses are high in fat. Luckily for us, there's a wide variety of cheese made with lower fat milk, which have a place in a low fat diet.

Grains, fruits and vegetable are all low in fat. But they all contain some. That's why a calorie and fat counter is so very useful.

And of course, there are the hidden fats. Convenience foods, pastries and pie crusts are all made with lots of fat. Read labels carefully.

These guidelines lead you to meals made with fish or chicken, skim milk, soft white cheeses, grains, vegetables and fruit. You'll use hardly any butter or oil. It does mean you'll have to learn new cooking techniques, and experiment with new herbs and spices, because the butter and oil help satisfy the taste buds.

It's easy to get too much fat. But it's just as easy to get a healthy amount.