Contrary to popular belief, we need fat! What we don’t need is too much of it, either in our diet or on our bodies. An excess amount in the diet can contribute to obesity and can increase the risk of developing heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.
Why do we need it?
- Provides flavor to food
- Gives us a sense of fullness in our stomachs
- Helps carry certain vitamins around in the bloodstream.
- Provides insulation to keep us warm
- Protects our internal organs like the heart, lungs and reproductive organs
- Is a source of stored energy
How much do we need?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 20% of total calories come from fat. So if you’re eating about 2000 calories per day, 400 of those calories could come from fat. Since each gram of fat has 9 calories, that’s about 44.4 grams each day.
Keep in mind that these amounts are guidelines. On average, over the course of the week, your intake should be at 20% of calories. There are days you may have a little more than recommended and days you may have a little less. This is perfectly normal.
How do you know how much fat is in food?
Food labels do tell you how many grams are in a serving of the particular food, and what percentage is saturated and unsaturated.
What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated?
Saturated fats are usually hard at room temperature and include meats, the skin on poultry, whole fat dairy products (cheese, whole milk, cream, butter, and ice cream), coconut oil, and lard.
Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They include polyunsaturated types such as vegetable oils (corn oil, safflower oil), nuts and some margarine. Unsaturated fats also include monounsaturated foods such as olives, olive oil, avocados and canola oil. Margarine, while made from vegetable sources, goes through a chemical process that results in something that acts like saturated fat.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 10% of your calories come from saturated fat.
Tips for choosing lower fat foods
If you think your diet may be too high in fat, there are some changes you can make.
- Most whole grains, breads, pastas and cereals are naturally low in fat.
- Fruits and vegetables, full of vitamins and fiber, contribute little fat to the diet.
- Choose lean meats and beans.
- Limit your intake of processed foods such as crackers, cookies, cakes and other snacks.
- Go easy on the fast food.
- Check the label if you’re unsure about the amount in a particular food.
- When cooking – broil, bake, grill and roast instead of sauté or fry
- When shopping – learn the definitions of such terms as low-fat, lite (see table below)
- When eating out – look for broiled, baked, grilled or roasted menu items or look for a healthy heart symbol. Have your salad dressing on the side so you can limit the amount you use.
Confused About What Fat Labels Mean?
Fat free. A serving contains no or an insignificant amount (less than 0.5 g)
Low fat. A serving contains no more than 3 grams, no more than 1 gram saturated fat
Reduced fat.The product has been changed to have 25% less fat than the original product or reference product.
Light. The product has been changed to have at least 50% less fat than the original product or reference product
% fat free. A product must be low fat or fat-free and the percentage must accurately reflect the amount in 100 grams of the food.