For the past two weeks I have been discussing fat. It is clear that fats are essential for proper body function. However, it is also clear that too many fats in the diet can increase the risk for several degenerative diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. This week I will review some of the ways you can decrease the amount of fat in the diet and improve the quality of the food you eat.

First, because there is so much hidden fat in prepared foods, you must learn how to read nutrition labels. The typical label lists the serving size, the number of servings per container, the total calories per serving, and the number of grams of protein, carbohydrates and fat.Since fat is listed in grams, you must convert it to calories to determine what percent of calories is fat. Fat contains about 9 calories per gram - therefore, you must multiply each gram by 9 to find out how many calories of fat there are. You can then divide this number by total calories to find percent fat.

For example, a product that has 145 calories per serving and 9 grams of fat would be 56 percent fat (9 grams x 9 calories = 81 calories of fat. 81 divided by 145 = 56 percent).

Try to limit the number of things you eat that contain high levels of fat.

The second technique is to begin avoiding the fats that you normally use each day. For instance, you can decrease or omit butter, margarine, spreads and mayonnaise that you normally put on bread or other foods. You can also cut down on the amount of dressing used with salads or use low-fat dressings.

How you cook things can also dramatically affect the amount of fat in the diet. Try to broil, boil, steam, bake, barbecue or microwave whenever possible, or fry using a Teflon pan and some no-stick spray. Deep-fried foods are high in fat. For instance, a potato is an extremely low-fat food. However, when made into french fries or potato chips, it becomes saturated. Even deep-fried veggies, such as zucchini, become fatty foods, and most meats get even fatter when breaded and deep fried.

The amount of meat in the diet can also be a problem. You should probably decrease the total amount of meat in the diet to about 4 to 6 ounces a day. Learn to use a meat as a condiment to add flavoring to other foods rather than the main course. You can also lower the fat by choosing lower fat types of meat, such as poultry, fish and lean cuts of beef, such as round, flank and rump. Avoid bacon, sausage, ham hot dogs and other fatty meats.

Dairy products are often fatty. Skim milk or 1 percent milk has the same protein and vitamin content as regular milk and will taste just as good when you get used to it. Regular cheese can be replaced by low-fat cottage cheese or skim-milk cottage cheese. Low-fat yogurt is also a good source of nutrients without much fat.

Another way to decrease fat is to modify favorite recipes. You can decrease fat in many of these favorites without altering the taste or texture at all. Prepare gravies with bouillon or defatted broth instead of meat or pan drippings. Choose bouillon, defatted broth, clear soups or soups made with the fat skimmed instead of creamy soups or those with fat not removed.