How Much Fat Is Too Much?
Fat is our friend.
Do you remember the fat-free diet craze? Overnight this craze seemed to bring forth a fat-free version of nearly every tasty food on the market, including salad dressings, crackers, cookies, gravies, breads… you name it and you could find it without the fat. People were avoiding fat because it was believed that any fat that we ate would transform into fat in our bodies and on our hips. This made for very unhappy dieters as fat helps our food to taste good, increases satisfaction (helping us to eat less), and research has found that a diet low in (omega-3) fat may actually raise the risk for depression. Certainly sounds like a sad time to me.
Thankfully nutritional science is ever evolving and we have finally invited fat back into our diets with open arms. We have learned that we need fat for a healthy body, not to mention for a healthy heart. Dietary fat is used to build cell membranes in our nervous system, provides energy, helps us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and also helps to keep us warm (think insulation!). Research has also taught us that we need certain types of fats more than others.
How Much Do I Need?
A healthy diet is one that has roughly 25%-35% or less total fat, 7% or less saturated fat, and less than 1% (or better yet, zero) trans fat. This translates into about 55-75 grams or less of total fat, 16 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 2 grams trans fat for someone following a 2,000 calorie diet.
If you do not want to spend time tallying up fat grams at the grocery store, here’s a short-cut. Have you ever noticed the percentages listed over in the right-hand column of the Nutrition Facts Panel? These tell you the percent daily value or %DV. Essentially this is the percentage of the total amount of the nutrient (fat, carbs, protein, vitamin, or mineral) recommended for a 2,000 calorie diet. In example, if your label lists the amount of 6 grams of total fat per serving, it will list 9% just to the right within the %DV column. This 9% indicates that one serving will provide 9% of your total fat for the day and that you will have about 21 percentage points remaining that day. Basically you can tally up the percentage-points until you reach that recommended amount (25%-35% for total fats and 7% for saturated fats).
Now, for those of you who are wondering if I sit and tally up my fat grams or percentages at each meal... That is simply not the case. While I do rely on the Nutrition Facts Panel for packaged foods that I am not very familiar with, for the most part I simply limit foods that are high in saturated fat, avoid foods that contain trans fats, and try to get more of the healthy fats into my diet. It is always more fun to focus on the foods that we can eat than the foods that we should be limiting. Here are a few examples of how I squeeze more healthy fats into my diet:
- Peanut butter and ground flax seed in my morning oatmeal (try this PB&J oatmeal!)
- A slice of avocado on my sandwich at lunch
- A splash of olive oil when I am cooking in the evening
- And I also aim for about two servings of fatty fish each week (maybe a tuna sandwich and Gingersnap Crusted Salmon).
- Finally, a handful of pumpkin seeds are always a tasty addition to my day!
One serving of fat (1 teaspoon of oil, 2 tablespoons of nut butter, 4-6 ounces of fatty fish, 2 tablespoons avocado) is great for each meal, though you certainly do not need much more. At double the calories per gram of carbs and protein, fat can quickly pack on the calories - something we all need to keep in balance.
What do you think? Take a peek at the next Nutrition Facts Panel you come across and try to figure out what percentage of your total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol it provides. Are the unsaturated mono- and poly- fats listed? Let me know if you find anything surprising on those labels of yours!