How Many Fats Should I Eat

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How many fats should I eat? That’s a question that’s been asked since the beginning of time. Fats helps in absorbing vitamins A, D and E. There are different types of fats. We need some kinds of fat to keep our bodies healthy, but too much fat means extra calories in our diets that may lead to obesity and heart problems. If a pregnant woman eats more than her needs, it would also affect the health of her baby.

What is fat?

Fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and protein) that are essential to human health.

It plays many protective roles in the body, and is a source of energy that helps us absorb specific vitamins. However, fat is high in calories it contributes 9 calories per gram versus the 4 calories per gram from carbs and protein.

What are the different types of fats?

There are two major categories of fats, with different subtypes. The major categories reflect differences in the chemical structure of the fats saturated and unsaturated fats.

The saturated fats, although important for our bodies to function, are the ones thought to contribute to negative health outcomes, while unsaturated fats are the types usually considered healthy.

Saturated fats come from mostly animal foods, like beef, eggs, and butter, but also from some plant foods, like coconuts. Unsaturated fats are typically found in mostly plant products like olive oil and avocados. Many foods contain both kinds of fats in different amounts.

Unsaturated fats are further broken down and categorised based on their chemical structure into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The polyunsaturated fats are the most beneficial for our health, although monounsaturated fats are more common in the western diet.

Trans fats have shown to be linked to negative health outcomes and many health organisations recommend avoiding them all together. Most trans fats are chemically engineered in food processing and don’t occur naturally.

Is fat good for you?

While there are general categories of good fats and bad fats, fat plays key roles in the body and we need a certain amount to function optimally.

However, oils are typically the “good” fats while fats that are solid at room temperature think lard, butter are in the “bad” fat category. All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats, but are categorised based on the majority type of fat they contain.

Good fats

The unsaturated fat-based oils are easy to incorporate into a healthy diet while cooking or seasoning foods in small amounts.

Monounsaturated Fats: These fats are important for skin and nervous system health, among other benefits. They help keep our cells healthy and can lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. You can obtain these heart healthy fats from cooking oils, nuts, seeds, and other foods.

Polyunsaturated Fats: These fats contain a different chemical structure than monounsaturated fats, and also can help lower bad cholesterol in addition to boosting brain health and promoting healthy cell growth.

You might hear the terms “omega-3” or “omega-6” fatty acids, which fall into this category. Beyond the heart health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the inflammatory response, which has greater health implications.

Bad fats

The bad fats in our diets should be limited. Animal products are often high in saturated fat, but can be limited by choosing lean cuts, not eating the skin on poultry, and choosing higher lean percentage ground meats.

Whole milk dairy products are often high in fat, so choosing skimmed or low-fat versions allows you the benefits of the protein and calcium while limiting the saturated fats.

Diets high in saturated fat and trans fat have been linked to health problems. However, they are present in so many foods that it would be almost impossible to avoid them completely, so the recommendation is to limit intake of these types of fats.

Saturated Fat: Our body is able to produce the saturated fats that it needs for structure and function, so for this reason, we don’t need to obtain any from our diet.

These are the fats that are associated with negative health outcomes and have no known role in prevention of any chronic disease.

Although many delicious products are high in saturated fat (ice cream, butter, processed meats), it’s best to limit them as much as possible.

Trans Fat: Trans fats are often added to processed foods to make them last longer on the shelves you can find them in snack foods and baked goods to improve texture.

They also keep oils from separating, like in margarine products. Sticking with whole, fresh foods more than those that are packaged can be an easy way to avoid trans fat. Trans fats have been shown to raise the LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

How many grams of fat should you be consuming?

Total Fat: Your total daily fat intake should make up 20-35%  of your total calories. This is equivalent to 44-78g of fat for those following a 2000-calorie diet.

Monounsaturated Fat:Monounsaturated fats, the kind that are the most beneficial to your health, should make up 15-20% of your calories, or 33-44 grams of a 2000-calorie diet.

Polyunsaturated Fat: Polyunsaturated fats should be limited to 5-10% of your total calories, or 11-22 grams of a 2000-calorie diet.

Saturated Fat: Saturated fat should contribute no more than 10% of your total calories, or no more than 22g in a 2000-calorie diet.

Trans Fat: Trans fats should be avoided in favour of healthier fats, but are counted toward your total fat intake for the day. Less than 1% of your calories, or 0-1g per day is ideal.

How much fat per day is safe to eat?

Unfortunately, there’s no one “magic” number of grams of fat that works for everyone. But in general, nutritionist Jessica Ash, CNC, founder of Jessica Ash Wellness, recommends getting about 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. Whitney English, RDN, agrees. “For someone on a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be about 55 to 66 grams of fat a day,” English says.

However, that number is flexible depending on a person’s activity level and overall health. For example, women with hormonal issues sometimes need more or less fat than someone with no health issues. “Fats offer satiety and are the building blocks of hormones—specifically saturated fat and cholesterol. So if there is a hormonal imbalance or hormonal issues then maybe fat intake needs to be a little higher,” says Ash, who specializes in helping women with hormonal imbalances and PCOS.

Even with her recommended guidelines, English tells her clients not to stress about specific macros as much as quality. “Instead of focusing on fat quantity, I encourage clients to focus on fat quality. Fat is so important for so many functions and life stages. For women specifically, consuming an adequate amount and good sources of fat plays a major role in fertility and a healthy pregnancy,” she says. The only group of people that she says may want to make a conscious effort to restrict their fat intake are those with cardiovascular disease.

How much saturated fat should a person eat per day?

a takeout tray of English-style chips covered in ketchup
Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that people keep their saturated fat intake to under 10% of calories per day to reduce the risk of chronic conditions.

According to the guidelines, however, about 70–75% of adults exceed the 10% limit on saturated fat as a result of selecting foods and beverages that are not nutrient dense.

Conversely, the AHA recommends that people aim for a dietary pattern that takes 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fat. For example, if someone is consuming 2,000 calories per day, no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fat.

The AHA explains that this equates to about 13 grams (g) of saturated fat per day. To put this into perspective, a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit from a fast food restaurant would contribute 11.7 g of saturated fat toward this limit.

If someone adheres to the government advice of a maximum of 10% of calories from saturated fat, this would mean that while following a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, they should eat no more than 22 g of saturated fat each day.

Health risks of saturated fat

Although guidelines typically recommend reducing saturated fat intake, researchers still debate the evidence for its influence on the risk of chronic conditions.

For example, the authors of a 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that although their study methods had limitations, the evidence did not support a robust association of saturated fats with all-cause mortality, heart diseases, stroke, or diabetes.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at the effects of overfeeding participants with excess weight either saturated fats, unsaturated fats, or simple sugars. Saturated fats increased more metabolic markers for diabetes and cardiovascular disease than the other two diets.

The effect of saturated fats on cholesterol levels, and how this may lead to heart disease, is currently controversial.

However, according to one 2017 review, there is strong evidence to suggest that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Some research suggests that overall diet quality is as important as the amount of saturated fat that someone eats. Some foods that contain saturated fats also contain beneficial nutrients, so moderation and variation are key.

For example, a 2020 study showed no association between several foods rich in saturated fats — such as whole fat dairy, dark chocolate, and unprocessed meat — and a higher cardiovascular or diabetes risk.

Sources of saturated fat

According to the Dietary Guidelines for AmericansTrusted Source, sandwiches such as burritos, hot dogs, and burgers account for 19% of people’s saturated fat intake, while desserts and sweet snacks account for 11%.

Some other common sources of saturated fat in the typical American diet include dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, casseroles, and quesadillas that contain dairy, meat, and grains in forms that are not nutrient dense.

The following is a list of food and beverage sources of saturated fat:

  • fatty beef, lamb, and pork
  • poultry with skin
  • beef fat and lard
  • processed and deli meats
  • whole milk
  • cream
  • butter
  • cheese and other dairy products made with whole milk or reduced fat (2%) milk
  • baked goods, such as cakes and pastries
  • ice-cream and sweet desserts
  • milkshakes and smoothies made with full fat dairy
  • fried foods and takeout foods

In addition, the AHA advises that some plant-based oils — such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil — also contain primarily saturated fats but do not contain cholesterol.

Some people wonder if they should eat eggs because of their association with cholesterol. Heart UK advises that an average egg contains about 4.6 g of total fat but says that only a quarter of this is saturated fat, which is the type that raises cholesterol levels in the body.

The AHA suggests consuming one egg or two egg whites per day for people who eat them as part of a healthy diet.

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