Myths perpetuated over long periods of time eventually become accepted as fact. One of the most prevalent diet myths says eating fat makes you fat. Fat has plenty of important functions, many of which are essential to life. Drastically reducing or attempting to eliminate your intake of fat can have serious implications. Fat is an essential nutrient. It is impossible to live without it and can even help improve your overall health.
Types of Fats
There are three types of fat; saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, unsaturated fats in plant products and trans fats in a wide variety of processed foods. Limit your consumption of fat to 30% of your calorie intake (see example below).
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products. These are known as bad fats because excessive intakes can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Sources of saturated fats include meat, dairy and eggs. Limit your consumption of saturated fats to 10% of your calorie intake (see below for example).
Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plant products. These are known as the good fats because their consumption can decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Sources of unsaturated fats include vegetable oils (particularly olive and canola), nuts, seeds, seafood and some fruits and vegetables. Limit your consumption of unsaturated fats to 20% of your calorie intake (see below for example).
A single food ingredient is rarely so detrimental to your health that the official recommendation is limiting your intake to nothing. Trans fats have serious negative effects on health when consumed on a regular basis; substantially increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It is therefore important to eliminate these fats from your diet. Trans fats are found in a variety of products including: margarine, some non-natural peanut butter, baked goods (doughnuts, muffins, pies, cookies) and vegetable shortening.
Foods made with partially or fully hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. Check the ingredients for hydrogenated oil to ensure you are eating trans fat-free foods.
Fat intake: 30% of daily calorie intake:
- 2,000 calories * 30% = 600 calories from fat (600 calories of fat equals about 67 grams since fat contains 9 calories per gram – 600 / 9 = 66.667)
Out of those 2,000 calories, 20% should come from unsaturated fat and 10% should from from saturated sources:
- unsaturated fat: 2,000 * 20% = 400 calories of unsaturated fat or 44 grams
- saturated fat: 2,000 * 10% = 200 calories of saturated fat or 22 grams
Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat
An excessive calorie intake combined with physical inactivity causes weight gain. Eating fat on its own has little to do with gaining weight. The difference between how many calories you burn and how many you eat controls weight balance. The amount of excess calories matters much more than the source.
Weight loss requires a calorie deficit: a state in which you burn more calories than you eat. Over time, this deficit forces your body to burn non-food energy sources (body fat) leading to weight loss. The calorie calculator helps you determine your calorie needs.
You can create a calorie deficit in a number of ways. The best way is to combine a smart diet that cuts unhealthy calories with an increase in physical activity. It is not ideal to cut all fats or all carbs without differentiating between the good and bad ones.
The Bottom Line
Fats have both positive and negative health implications. It is therefore unwise to eliminate all of them from your diet rather than focusing on the ones that negatively impact your health. Eating foods that contain unsaturated fats while limiting your intake of saturated & trans fats significantly improves your overall health.