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How much dietary fat is a healthy amount of fat?

Published: December 18, 2015

Dietary fat is a necessary component of a healthy diet, but how much fat and which type of fat should you include in your diet? Recommendations to reduce fat intake are often misunderstood and dietary fat is sometimes perceived as "bad" and to be avoided at all costs.

Olive oil may have health benefits
Olive oil may have health benefits
While some types of fats, such as saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids, have been associated with negative health effects, other fats provide you with health benefits: specifically omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
Fatty acids are required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E and K during your digestive process in your small intestine.
Omega-3 (linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids as unlike other fatty acids which make up fats these two fatty acids cannot be made by your body.
The current recommendation for fat intake from food is between 45-75g per day for someone consuming 2000 calories. This amount represents 20-35% of the daily energy requirement or 400-700 calories: 1 gram of fat provides you with 9 calories of energy.  
This amount of fat per day can serve as a general guideline for most people. Very active people who consume more than 2000 calories per day may need to consume more fat. Inactive people or people who eat far less than 2000 calories per day need to consume less.
For example, at 1600 calories per day the amount of fat would be between 36-62 g per day which supplies approximately 320-560 calories.
Because saturated and trans fats are associated with an increased risk for heart disease it is suggested that consumption of these types of fats be reduced. The recommendation for dietary intake of saturated fat is 10% of daily caloric intake.
For 2000 calories per day this is approximately 22g per day and for 1600 calories per day is approximately 18 g per day.
Trans-fatty acids behave like saturated fatty acids and consumption of products containing trans-fatty acids should be minimized as much as possible to less than 2 g per day. Following the recommendation for dietary fat intake and reducing total fat and saturated fat intake will also reduce trans-fatty acid intake.
However, many processed foods contain trans-fatty acids so it is necessary to read nutrition fact labels to determine how much trans-fat is in the product. In Canada trans-fats in oils, margarines and spreads must be limited to less than 2% of the total fat content and 5% of total fat content of other foods.
Your daily fat allowance should include essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

  • Omega -3 (linolenic acid):
    • women 1.1 g/day
    •  men 1.6 g/day
    • 0.6 - 1.2 % of daily caloric intake.
  • Omega-6 (Linoleic acid):
    • women 19-50 12g/day, 51+ 11g/day
    • men 19-50 17 g/day, 51+ 14 g/day
    • 5-10% or total daily caloric intake.

Most people consume enough omega-6 fatty acids, but not enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Try low fat yogurt, fruit and nuts
Try low fat yogurt, fruit and nuts
Cholesterol is another fat which your body makes, and which is also present in the food you eat.
Although studies suggest that saturated and trans fats may adversely affect blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol, a daily value for dietary cholesterol has been set at 300 mg and is independent of total daily caloric intake.
The majority of people in Canada and North America consume more than the recommended amount of fat.
You can reduce the amount of fat in your diet, if necessary, by selecting lower fat products, particularly lower saturated fat products such as low fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, and lean meats.
Chicken and fish are low in saturated fat, naturally contain no trans fat and have higher amounts of unsaturated fatty acids. Oily fish has higher amounts of essential fatty acids.
Plant foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains contain higher amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, no trans fats (unless processed using a product containing trans fats) and may contain phytosterols which are thought to benefit health.
Reducing fat intake does not mean eliminating all fat from your diet as some fat is necessary to provide essential fatty acids and energy. Unsaturated fatty acids and essential fatty acids have potential health benefits therefore, including small amounts of vegetable oils (30-45 ml, 2-3 tbsp) your diet provides for balanced nutrition.
Follow the links to sources of fat and ways to reduce fat to learn more about healthy dietary fats.

Related Topics

Food Choices  Nutrients  Fats  Your Body 

References

1.
Whitney, E. & Rady Rolfes, S. (2005). Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth