Women who avoid certain nutrient-dense foods or groups of foods because they are perceived as fattening may be depriving the body of the nutrients needed most, according to Helene Swenerton, nutritionist for UC Davis, Cooperative Extension, and with the Dairy Council of California.
Many women associate their fear of weight gain with meats, breads and cereals, or dairy products and avoid these foods, a practice that can contribute to iron, calcium and other nutrient deficiencies, according to Swenerton.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows the average 18- to 34-year-old woman receives only two-thirds of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of calcium, the mineral which helps lower the risk of osteoporosis. Furthermore, about one-third of the same age group of women have iron deficiencies, which are the predominant cause of anemia, according to a 1984 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
An 'Irrational' Act
"It is irrational for people to concern themselves about calories in one food, eliminate it, then consume too many calories in the rest of the diet," Swenerton said. "All of the Basic Four Food Groups are necessary for a balanced diet."
A three-ounce serving of porterhouse steak has 210 calories, an eight-ounce glass of low-fat milk has 121, a cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt has 194, a slice of whole-wheat bread has 61 and a serving of bran cereal has 91 calories. An average woman's daily diet has about 1,700 calories, a man's has 2,000.
To keep calorie intake down while maintaining vital nutrient levels, Swenerton suggests working with the total diet, looking for alternatives within a food group, and limiting extra foods as first steps.
"The basic rule in thinking about your diet is to eat a variety of foods in balance, including three servings daily from the dairy group, two from the meat group, four from the breads and cereals group and four from the fruits and vegetables group," Swenerton said.
Only One Extra Serving
In the dairy group, women who consume two servings daily can meet the 1,000 milligrams of calcium most physicians recommend with only one extra serving of low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt or cheese. One dairy group serving equals an eight-ounce glass of low-fat milk, a carton of low-fat yogurt or an ounce of cheese. Eating three-ounce portions of fat-trimmed or leaner cuts of meat will help lower fat while boosting iron intake.
"If you want to restrict something, it should be those foods that are more calorie-dense and less nutrient-dense, such as extra foods," she said.
Extra foods include candy, jams, syrups, alcohol, cake, cookies, salad dressing and soft drinks.