Fats in the diet. Good and Bad

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Despite what many people think, fat is not all bad. In fact, fats in the diet are essential for good health – if you really did eat a 99% fat free diet, you would not be healthy. The problem with fat is that too much of it is unhealthy. As well as causing you to become overweight, too much fat contributes to obesity, a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, gall stones and certain cancers.

When trying to eat a balanced diet, don’t forget that dietary fats/oils have over double the energy of carbohydrates and protein. Dietary fat is also more readily converted to and stored as body fat compared to carbohydrates and protein.

Energy values per gram

Carbohydrate 4 Calories
Protein 4 Calories
Fat/Oil 9 Calories
Alcohol 7 Calories

Excess carbohydrates may also be converted and stored as body fat. Excess alcohol also lessens the body’s ability to burn fat and increases fat storage – particularly in the belly, which is a danger zone for health.

Recommended fat intake

With many of us getting over 40% of total calories from fat – either as fat or oil, or as fat in foods and drinks – it’s not surprising that Americans consume too much fat.

Healthy ranges for fat intake per day are as follows:

Children 30-60g
Teenagers (Active) 40-80g
Women 30-60g
Men (Active) 40-80g
Heavy Activity/Athlete 80-120g

The chart below shows the recommended maximum fat intake for different energy levels. Note that at lower calorie levels, the percent of fat calories should decrease to allow for protein calories (which have nutritional priority).

Calories Fat % cals from fat
1200 cals
1500 cals
1800 cals
2000 cals
2200 cals
2500 cals
2800 cals
3000 cals
3500 cals
4000 cals
30g
40g
50g
60g
70g
80g
90g
100g
117g
135g
23%
24%
25%
27%
28%
29%
29%
30%
30%
30%

Types of fat

As well as eating the right amount of fat, it’s also important to eat the right types of fat. Fats that are described as saturated or trans are the most critical ones to limit (limit to 10% of your fat calories). Fats described as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, on the other hand, are ones you should include as a regular part of your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are also an important dietary fat.

Type of fat Found in foods such as… Recommended daily intake
Saturated or trans fats Full cream milk, cheese, butter, cream, fatty meats and sausages, and processed foods 10% or less of total calories
Monounsaturated fat Canola and olive oils, canola margarine, peanuts, avocados 10-15% of total calories
Polyunsaturated fat Canola oil and margarine, fish, other omega-3 foods listed above 10% or less of total calories

Fat intake for infants

Infants and toddlers under three years should not be restricted in their fat intake because much larger volumes of food would be required to guarantee adequate energy intake and growth. Particularly, low-fat milk should not be a replacement for whole milk.

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