If there is any truth in the expression, “you are what you eat,” then Americans are at risk of becoming “SOFAS”—an acronym for solid fats and added sugars. SOFAS, which should account for a small percentage of our overall calorie intake, are becoming a growing part of our diets. This is not only expanding our waistlines, its leaving us deficient in many nutrients essential for good health.
SOFAS: No bang for the buck
Based on our age, gender and amount of physical activity, we all have a certain amount of calories we can “spend” in a day in order to “purchase” the fuel (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and essential nutrients we need to maintain a normal weight and good overall health. SOFAS are often called “empty” calories as they “cost” you calories but provide very little nutritional value in return.
The goal for healthy living is to limit the amount of calories from SOFAS to about 5-15% of total calories. For the average adult consuming 2,000 calories a day, this is about 250 calories.
It’s important to note that the sugars we are referring to here are added sugars, not those sugars (aka carbohydrates) naturally present in foods. Also, the solid fats in SOFAS refer to fats that are solid at room temperature, not the healthy fats that are liquid at room temperature such as olive, fish, nut and most vegetable oils.
SOFAS on the Menu
As we mentioned in our previous post “How Much Sugar is Too Much?” fats and sugars are lurking in many foods—both homemade and packaged foods. So it’s no surprise that SOFAS are a big problem.
According to the ongoing “What We Eat in America” study, most Americans are way over the recommended limits for SOFAS. In their analysis of the eating habits of more than 5,000 adults, researchers found that men aged 20 and older consumed 923 calories per day—about two to three times their recommended limit. Women of the same age racked up 624 calories per day or about two to four times their recommended limit for SOFAS.
They also reported that snacks alone provide about one-third (32% for women and 31% for men) of all “empty calories” from SOFAS. This is not surprising as market research indicates the number of people who say they have a snack at least twice a day is up 23 percentage points in just two years, from 25% in 2010 to 48% in 2012.
Overfed and Undernourished
This overconsumption of empty calories has left Americans as a whole overweight but undernourished. Nationwide dietary surveys have found that many of us are lacking in several key nutrients necessary for basic physiological functions and to prevent chronic illness. These nutrients include: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
By reducing SOFAS and eating more nutritious food options, we have an opportunity to keep our weight in check, improve our overall nutritional status and curb the rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Tips for reducing SOFAS:
- You don’t have to eliminate all indulgences like ice cream, candy, cakes, cookies and sodas--just limit them to once a week or special occasions.
- Choose nutrient dense snacks such as whole fruit, vegetables, non-fat dairy, nuts and trail mix.
- Cut or limit solid fats found in butter, lard, shortening, stick margarine and sausage or other fatty meats. In many recipes, canola or olive oil can be used instead of solid fats.
- Have a sweet tooth? Rather than reaching for a cupcake or candy bar, keep fresh, whole fruit on hand. To help keep blood sugar levels balanced eat fruit with a meal or snack that contains protein. For example, add fresh berries to plain yogurt. Or have a tablespoon of peanut butter with apple slices.
- Keep a stash of healthy snacks at home, at the office, in the car or on your person. This will keep you from being tempted by less healthier options.
The Journal of Nutrition