Edited by Kate Findley, The Great Courses Daily
Even though the myth that “fat makes you fat” has largely been disproven and most nutrition experts now recognize that fat is an integral part of a healthy diet, there are still conflicting opinions in the nutrition world regarding fat consumption. Dr. Ormsbee brings some clarity to the table.
Types of Fats
You may be wondering what your total daily fat intake should be. Also, how much of each type of fat should you eat?
The main types of fat are unsaturated fats, which include nuts and oils; and saturated fats, which largely consist of animal fats such as meat and dairy. Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are largely found in pre-packaged and restaurant foods.
The American Heart Association recommends that, for good health, the majority of fats that you eat should be monounsaturated (include olive oil and avocados) or polyunsaturated (include both omega-6 fatty acids, found in canola oil; and omega-3’s, found in salmon), rather than saturated fats and trans fats.
Others recommend eating about one-third of each type of fat—saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fats—while including a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
“I like to focus on eating high-quality sources of fat like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids from fish and fish oil,” Dr. Ormsbee said. “Then I just let the rest of my fat take care of itself because it’s already in many of the animal products and occasional treats that I have. This has worked well to balance my fat intake to roughly equal parts of mono, poly, and saturated fat intake.”
How Much Fat Should We Eat?
Fat is an enormous supply of fuel for us to tap into, and understanding fat use will clearly help improve body composition. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends fat intake to be between 20 percent and 35 percent of your total calorie intake, and it recommends that saturated fat make up no more than 10 percent of these calories.
They also recommend replacing solid fats with oils when possible and limiting foods with trans fats or hydrogenated oils as much as possible. Additionally, the guidelines suggest eating less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one large egg has about 186 milligrams of cholesterol, all of which is found in the yolk. Thus, two eggs would put you over the recommended limit.
Fat Recommendation Controversies
However, the relationship between cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet may not correlate with cholesterol in your blood and thus may not contribute to heart disease, as experts once thought. Also, many vegetable oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can lead to inflammation and are correlated with cardiovascular disease and cancer when consumed in excess, so that could be the wrong recommendation to give to people.
No matter how you cut it, fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient that we eat. One gram of fat yields nine calories, and many people don’t need to seek out additional fat to eat when considering total fat consumed per day. That’s because fat is usually in many of the foods you eat normally.
However, research is now showing that it may be useful to eat more high-quality fats in your diet like nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish. These foods provide a nice variety of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Because fat helps you feel full, these foods can be used to reduce the total number of calories that you consume in a day.
Dr. Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his Ph.D. in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.