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Fat Grams – How Much Fat Should You Eat Per Day?

Half an Avocado, a Piece of Salmon and Some NutsFat is an important part
of your diet, but figuring out how much to eat can be
confusing.

Over the last 50 years, everyday diets have gone from
moderate-fat to low-fat, based on recommendations from health
organizations.

However, the 2015–2020 US Dietary Guidelines no longer specify
an upper limit for how much total fat you should consume.

This article takes a detailed look at different types of fat
and provides suggestions for how much to eat per day.

What Is Fat?

Along with protein
and
carbs
, fat is one of the three macronutrients in your diet.

You consume fat in the form of triglycerides. A triglyceride
molecule is made up of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol
backbone. The fatty acids contain chains of carbons and
hydrogens.

Triglyceride Structure

Image source: Wikipedia.

One way fats are classified is by the length of their carbon
chains:

  • Short-chain fatty acids: Fewer than 6
    carbons.
  • Medium-chain fatty acids: 6–12 carbons.
  • Long-chain fatty acids: 13–21 carbons.
  • Very-long-chain fatty acids: 22 or more
    carbons.

Most of the fats you eat are long-chain fatty acids. Short-chain
fatty acids
are mainly produced when bacteria ferment
soluble fiber in your colon, although milk fat also contains
small amounts.

Long-chain and very-long-chain fats are absorbed into the
bloodstream and released into the body’s cells as needed.
However, short-chain and medium-chain fats are taken up
directly by the liver to be used as energy.



Bottom Line: Fats are one of the three
macronutrients. They are absorbed from food and used by the
body for energy and other functions.

Functions and Benefits of Fat

Small Bowl of Mixed Nuts

Fat performs a number of functions and provides several health
benefits:

  • Energy: Fat is an excellent energy source.
    It provides 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs
    each provide 4 calories per gram.
  • Hormone and gene regulation: Fats regulate
    the production of reproductive and steroid hormones, as well
    as genes involved in growth and metabolism (1, 2).
  • Brain function: Adequate fat intake is
    important for brain health, including mood (3, 4).
  • Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins
    A, D, E and K must be consumed with fat to be properly
    absorbed.
  • Flavor and fullness: Adding fat to foods
    makes them tastier and more filling.

The fat stored inside your body helps insulate your organs,
keeps you warm and provides a vast source of energy that you
can use in the case of famine.

Bottom Line: Fats provide a number of
benefits for your body, including serving as an energy
source, regulating hormones and genes, maintaining brain
health and making food more tasty and satisfying.

Different Types of Fat

Fatty acids are grouped according to the number of double bonds
between carbons in their structures.

Monounsaturated Fat

Olive Oil in a Glass Bottle and Three Green Olives and Leaves

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have one double bond in
their carbon chains.

MUFA food sources are typically liquid at room temperature and
fairly stable for cooking purposes.

The most common MUFA is oleic acid, which olive
oil
contains in high amounts.

Monounsaturated fat is linked to several health benefits,
including a reduced risk of serious diseases such as heart
disease and diabetes (5, 6, 7).

One review of 24 controlled studies found diets in
monounsaturated fat lead to significantly lower blood sugar,
triglycerides, weight and blood pressure, compared to high-carb
diets. They also increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels
(7).

MUFAs may also increase feelings of fullness that lead to
reduced calorie intake.

In one study, people felt fuller and took in fewer calories for
the next 24 hours after consuming bread rich in oleic acid,
compared to bread that contained less (8).

Polyunsaturated Fat

Herring

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) contain two or more double
bonds.

They can be divided into groups depending on the location of
the double bonds. These include
omega-3s
and omega-6s.

These double bonds make PUFAs more flexible and fluid than
saturated fats.

On the other hand, they’re also far more prone to damage and
rancidity.

Studies have found that long-chain omega-3 fats have benefits
for inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, depression and other
health conditions (9, 10, 11, 12).

Although you need some omega-6 fats, they can be inflammatory
when consumed in excess, especially if omega-3 PUFA intake is
low (13, 14, 15).

Omega-6 fats are very common in modern-day diets. On the other
hand, omega-3 fats are usually consumed in much smaller
amounts.

Significantly, researchers report that the evolutionary diet of
humans provided a
ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats
between 1:1 and 4:1. By
contrast, it’s estimated that most people now consume these
fats in a 15–17:1 ratio (16).

Saturated Fat

Block of Butter in Foil

Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) have no double bonds in their
carbon chains, so the carbons are said to be “saturated” with
hydrogen.

They are very stable at high temperatures and far less likely
to be damaged during cooking than polyunsaturated fats.

SFA intake can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in some
people, although this depends in part on the specific fatty
acids consumed. It should also be noted that HDL cholesterol
typically goes up as well (17).

Overall, research
indicates
that SFA consumption has a neutral effect on
health and doesn’t appear to cause or contribute to heart
disease (18, 19, 20).

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In fact, some foods high in saturated fat may benefit metabolic
health.

For example, studies suggest that the medium-chain
triglycerides
in coconut oil and palm oil may boost
metabolic rate and reduce calorie intake (21, 22).

Trans Fat

In a trans fats molecule, hydrogens are positioned across from
each other rather than side by side.

Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in dairy and other
animal foods. However, nothing is natural about the trans fats
used in processed foods.

These trans fats are produced by adding hydrogen to unsaturated
fats to create a product that functions more like a saturated
fat. Ingredient
labels
often list them as “partially hydrogenated” fats.

Consuming trans fats can lead to a number of health problems.
Artificial
trans fats
are linked to inflammation, unhealthy
cholesterol changes, impaired artery function, insulin
resistance and excess belly fat (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).

One study estimated that replacing trans fat with other fats
could reduce heart disease risk by up to 40%, depending on the
type and amount of fat substituted (29).

Trans fats are often found in margarine and other processed
spreads. Food manufacturers sometimes add them to packaged
products such as crackers to help extend shelf life.

Bottom Line: Fats are grouped by the number
of bonds in their carbon chains. Aside from trans fats, most
fats have beneficial or neutral effects on health. However, a
high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may cause problems.

How Much Fat Is Healthy to Eat Per Day?

The appropriate amount of fat to eat will depend on your
calorie requirements for weight loss or maintenance. It will
also be based on your eating style and diet.

You can use this
calculator
to determine your calorie needs to lose weight
or maintain your weight. This is your daily calorie goal.

Avocado, Salmon, Oil and Nuts on a Wooden Chopping Board

Low-Fat Diet

A standard low-fat diet contains about 30% of calories from
fat, or less.

Here are a few examples of suggested daily fat ranges for a
low-fat diet, based on different calorie goals:

  • 1,500 calories: About 50 grams of fat per
    day.
  • 2,000 calories: About 67 grams of fat per
    day.
  • 2,500 calories: About 83 grams of fat per
    day.

It’s important to note that studies show higher-fat diets, such
as low-carb and Mediterranean diets, are
actually much healthier
than the standard low-fat diet.

High-Fat Low-Carb or Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic
diet
minimizes carbs, provides a moderate amount of protein
and is high in fat.

The percentage of calories from fat will depend on how low your
carb intake is, but it will generally be between 50–75% of
calories.

Here are a few examples of suggested daily fat ranges for a
low-carb or ketogenic diet, based on different calorie goals:

  • 1,500 calories: About 83–125 grams of fat
    per day.
  • 2,000 calories: About 111–167 grams of fat
    per day.
  • 2,500 calories: About 139–208 grams of fat
    per day.

Moderate-Fat Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean
diet
includes a wide variety of plant and animal foods such
as fish, meat, eggs, dairy, extra virgin olive oil, fruits,
vegetables, legumes and whole grains.

It typically provides 35–40% of calories from fat, including
plenty of monounsaturated fat from olive oil.

Here are a few examples of suggested daily fat ranges for a
Mediterranean diet, based on different calorie goals:

  • 1,500 calories: About 58–67 grams of fat per
    day.
  • 2,000 calories: About 78–89 grams of fat per
    day.
  • 2,500 calories: About 97–111 grams of fat
    per day.

Bottom Line: How much fat you eat per day
should be based on the type of diet you follow and your
calorie needs for weight loss or maintenance.

Foods High in Healthy Fat

Meat

Regardless of the type of diet you follow, it’s important to
get a balance of different types of healthy fats every day.

Fortunately,
many delicious foods
can provide the fat you need.

While most foods contain a mixture of different fats, some are
especially high in certain types.

Below are examples of foods rich in different types of healthy
fats.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are found in most plant and animal foods,
but some foods are especially rich in them.

These include:

  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Peanuts

  • Avocados
  • Pork
  • Beef

All of these foods also contain omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Omega-6 fats are present in most plant and animal foods,
including those mentioned above.

However, getting adequate omega-3 fats takes a little more
work.

Foods rich in
omega-3s
include:

Saturated Fat

Healthy foods that are high in saturated fat include:


  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Whole-milk dairy, such as full-fat yogurt
  • Mascarpone cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Lamb meat

Bottom Line: Choose a variety of healthy
foods that provide fats from each of the different groups
every day, especially omega-3 fats.

Take Home Message

Fats serve a number of important functions, along with making
foods taste better and helping you feel satisfied.

Fortunately, a rather large range of fat intake is actually
considered healthy.

Eating the right amounts and right types of fat can go a long
way toward reducing disease risk and enhancing your overall
health.

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