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Health Information For Teens
From all you hear, you’d think fat and calories are really bad for you. It’s true that many people are eating more fat and calories than they need. But we all require a certain amount of fat and calories in our diets to fuel our growth and activities — everything from solving a math problem to racing up and down the soccer field. So what’s the truth on fat and calories?
Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build cell membranes, nerve tissue (like the brain), and hormones. The body also uses fat as fuel. If fats that a person has eaten aren’t burned as energy or used as building blocks, they are stored by the body in fat cells. This is the body’s way of thinking ahead: By saving fat for future use, it plans for times when food might be scarce.
A calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much energy food provides to the body. The body needs calories to function properly.
Food labels list calories by the amount in each serving size. Serving sizes differ from one food to the next, so to figure out how many calories you’re eating, you’ll need to do three things:
For example, a bag of cookies may list three cookies as a serving size. But if you eat six cookies, you are really eating two servings, not one. To figure out how many calories those two servings contain, you must double the calories in one serving.
When it comes to fat, labels can say many things. Low fat, reduced fat, light (or lite), and fat-free are common terms you’re sure to see on food packages. The U.S. government has strict rules about the use of these phrases: By law, fat-free foods can contain no more than 0.5 grams of fat per serving. Low-fat foods may contain 3 grams of fat or less per serving. Foods marked reduced fat and light (lite) are a little trickier, and you may need to do some supermarket sleuthing.
Light (lite) and reduced-fat foods may still be high in fat. The requirement for a food to be labeled light (lite) is that it must contain 50% less fat or one third fewer calories per serving than the regular version of that food. Foods labeled reduced fat must contain 25% less fat per serving than the regular version. But if the regular version of a particular food was high in fat to begin with, a 25% to 50% reduction may not lower the fat content enough to make it a smart snacking choice. For example, the original version of a brand of peanut butter contains 17 grams of fat and the reduced fat version contains 12 grams. That’s still a lot of fat!
The calories in food come from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. A gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. A gram of protein also contains 4 calories. A gram of fat, though, contains 9 calories — more than twice the amount of the other two.
That’s why one food with the same serving size as another may have far more calories. A high-fat food has many more calories than a food that’s low in fat and higher in protein or carbohydrates.
For instance, 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream contains:
Compare this with the same serving size (1/2 cup) of cooked carrots:
So fat makes quite a difference when it comes to total calories in a food.
But let’s face it, who’s going to choose a heaping bowl of cooked carrots over ice cream on a hot summer day? It all comes down to making sensible food choices most of the time. The goal is to make tradeoffs that balance a higher-fat food with foods that are lower in fat. So if you really want that ice cream, it’s OK once in a while — as long as you work in some lower-fat foods, like carrots, that day.
Although all types of fat have the same amount of calories, some are more harmful to your health than others. Saturated fat and trans fat increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Food labels show the amounts of saturated fats and trans fats in a particular food.
Saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature — like butter, shortening, or the fat on meat. Saturated fat comes mostly from animal products, but some tropical oils, like palm oil and coconut oil, also contain saturated fat. Small amounts of trans fat are also found in whole dairy and meat products.
Trans fats are often found in packaged baked goods, like cookies or crackers. They also may be found in fried foods like french fries and doughnuts. Because saturated fat and trans fat raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing a person’s chances of developing heart disease, a gram of one of these fats is worse for a person’s health than a gram of unsaturated fat.
One of the most common sources of trans fat in today’s foods is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenation is a process that changes liquid oils into a solid form of fat by adding hydrogen. This process allows these fats to keep for a long time without losing their flavor or going bad.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Polyunsaturated fat is found in soybean, corn, sesame and sunflower oils, or fish and fish oil. Monounsaturated fat is found in olives, olive oil or canola oil, most nuts and their oils, and avocados.
Fats should be eaten in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that people get as much of their daily fat intake as possible from unsaturated fats and that they limit saturated fats and trans fats.
It’s a bad idea to try to avoid fat completely. Fats are an important source of energy and they can help you feel full.
Fats are needed to absorb certain vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed if there is fat in a person’s diet. Also, body fat cells act as insulation to keep the body warm and help protect and cushion internal organs.
Like fat, you need a certain amount of calories in your diet to fuel your body. Nutritionists do not recommend calorie counting (keeping track of the number of calories in everything that you eat) for teens unless a doctor has specifically recommended it. So if you are concerned about your weight, speak to your doctor.
A healthy eating pattern means choosing a variety of foods, including vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein foods. Limit saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars. Think about substitutes for foods that have a lot of sugar, fat, or calories. For example, drink water or low-fat milk instead of soft drinks, or choose mustard instead of mayonnaise on your sandwich.
Being aware of the amount of fat and calories you eat makes sense, as long as you eat a balanced diet. Choosing foods wisely and exercising regularly are the keys to long-term good health.
Lots of us don’t realize we’re eating too much because we’ve become so used to large portions. This article for teens helps you take control of your plate.
Visit our nutrition and fitness center for teens to get information and advice on food, exercise, and sports.
You don’t need to be a dietitian to figure out how to make healthy food choices. Before grabbing a shopping cart and heading for the aisles, read this article to make grocery shopping a snap.
Look at any packaged food and you’ll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.
We all know the importance of eating well. But how are you supposed to do so when your schedule is so demanding you’re never at home? Find out how to make healthy food choices on the go.
Healthy snacks are essential for busy teens. Find out how eating nutritious snacks throughout the day can keep your energy level high and your mind alert.
You’ve prepared for the game in almost every way possible: but now what should you eat? Read about performance foods, nutritional supplements, and more.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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