The foods we eat contain nutrients that provide energy and other substances the body needs. Most of the nutrients in food fall into three major groups: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Grouped together, there are referred to as Macronutrients.
The body uses fat as a fuel source, and fat is the major storage form of energy in the body. Fat also has many other important functions in the body, and a moderate amount is needed in the diet for good health. Fats in food come in several forms, including saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Too much fat or too much of the wrong type of fat can be unhealthy.
Some examples of foods that contain fats are butter, oil, nuts, meat, fish, and some dairy products.
Different Types of Fats: Definitions
There are different kinds of fat that you consume in your diet. Some types of fat are healthier than others.
Saturated fat. When you eat fat that comes from animal sources it is usually saturated fat. Some plant sources, like coconut and palm oil also provide saturated fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fat include butter and beef fat. High levels of saturated fat in your diet may increase the risk of heart disease. So health organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that you limit your saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your total daily calorie intake.
Trans fat. The most dangerous kind of fat is trans fat or fat that has been manufactured to be solid at room temperature. Food manufacturers must list trans fat on food labels, but you can also scan the ingredients list for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” to find trans fat in your food. Because trans fats provide no health benefits and can be dangerous in your diet, medical experts recommend that you try to avoid foods with trans fat.
Monounsaturated fat. Often called “MUFAs” monounsaturated fats are often referred to as “good fats.” These healthy dietary fats come from plant sources and are usually liquid at room temperature. Examples of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, canola oil, and avocado. MUFAs can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, so experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend that you choose foods with monounsaturated fat instead of saturated fat when possible.
Polyunsaturated fat. Another kind of healthy fat is polyunsaturated fat or PUFAs. Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats and provide significant health benefits. For that reason, health experts recommend that you get 3 to 10 percent of your daily calories from PUFAs. Good sources of polyunsaturated fat include salmon, tuna and other cold water fish.
Fat is an important part of a healthy diet. Kids, especially, need a certain amount of fat in their diets so the brain and nervous system develop correctly. That’s why toddlers need to drink whole milk, which has more fat, and older kids can drink low-fat or skim milk.
Where Does Dietary Fat Go?
The dietary fat that you consume is either burned by your body as fuel or it is stored in the body as adipose tissue. Some fat is also contained in plasma and other cells. Adipose tissue helps to insulate the body and provides support and cushioning for the organs.
Dieters might be tempted to avoid dietary fat because it is higher in calories than carbohydrates or protein.
Fat provides 9 calories per gram while carbohydrates and protein provide just 4 calories per gram. But eating dietary fat in moderation is important for good health.
Many experts recommend that your diet provides no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat. So depending on your daily calorie intake, your daily fat grams would vary.
If you eat 1,600 calories per day, you should consume 53 grams of fat or less
If you eat 2,200 calories per day, you should consume 73 grams of fat or less
If you eat 2,800 calories per day, you should consume 93 grams of fat or less
The USDA recommends that you consume no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat and that you avoid trans fat.
As you can see from these different definitions of fat, there are certain types of fat that are good for you. Just remember to eat all fats in moderation to maintain a calorie balance and reach a healthy weight.