Dietary fat is the fat we consume in our food (not to be confused with body fat, the fat we store in our body). Fat is an important and necessary source of energy in our diet. About 9 calories per gram provide more than twice the calories in an equivalent amount of carbohydrate or protein (each with 4 calories per gram). Due to their high calories, eating too much dietary fat can easily exceed your total calorie requirements and gain weight.
Dietary Fat vs. Body fat
The definition of dietary fat is different from the definition of body fat. Body fat is the excess energy our bodies store to use as fuel during starvation, organ protection, and insulation from the cold. It is also called adipose tissue and can be stored as subcutaneous fat (subcutaneous) or visceral fat (around organs). Survival and health require some body fat, but too much fat can lead to chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
On the other hand, the easiest way to define dietary fat is the fact that we eat. However, just because food contains dietary fat does not mean it is unhealthy. The right type of dietary fat serves an important function in our body. Just as eating too many carbohydrates and proteins causes body fat to accumulate, eating too much dietary fat can increase body fat.
Definition of Total Fat
Total fat is a measure of dietary fat in packaged food. If you look at the nutrition label on your food package, you’ll see “total fat” at the top of the label, listed just below your calorie count. Total fat is a combination of different types of fats, including saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats. Total fat also includes trans fat.
Different varieties of Dietary Fat
Total fat can be a useful data point, but it is important to not only look at total fat but to distinguish between normal and unhealthy fat.
The most dangerous type of fat is trans fat. Trans fats are found in processed foods. It is a type of fat manufactured to be solid at room temperature.
Medical professionals are advised to avoid foods containing trans fat altogether, as trans fat does not bring any health benefits and may endanger your health. Limiting the number of processed foods you eat and avoiding fried foods can help reduce your trans fat intake.
Most dietary fats of animal origin are saturated fats. Some vegetable foods, such as coconut and palm oil, also provide saturated fats, which are slightly different than saturated fats derived from meat products.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fats include butter, lard, and beef fat. High levels of saturated fats in the diet can increase your risk of heart disease. Health agencies such as the American Heart Association recommend limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your total daily caloric intake. Choosing three botanical-based options regularly can help balance the amount of saturated fat you get from eating meat.
Another form of healthy fat is polyunsaturated fat or PUFA. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that offer many health benefits. That’s why health experts recommend taking 3-10% of your daily calories from PUFA. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include salmon, tuna, sardines, and other cold-water fish. Walnuts and chia seeds also provide heart-healthy PUFAs.
Often called “MUFA”, monounsaturated fats are known as “good fats”. These healthy edible fats come from botanical sources such as olives, nuts, and avocados. They are usually liquid at room temperature. MUFA helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and saturated and trans fats are beneficial because they increase LDL. Whenever possible, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics experts recommend choosing foods high in monounsaturated fats rather than saturated or trans fats. For example, you can replace lard with avocado or olive oil when cooking.
Need to reduce total fat intake?
Many healthy dieters are confused about whether to focus on reducing total fat intake. The answer is not always easy. Reducing one macronutrient (in this case, fat) may increase another macronutrient (such as a carbohydrate). For example, simply removing fat from your diet and replacing it with sugar is not good for your health. After all, the most important thing is the balance and quality of the diet.
How much total fat should I eat?
Many experts recommend that your diet provides no more than 30% of the total calories from fat. Recommended daily grams of fat vary depending on your daily caloric intake.
If you eat 1,600 calories per day, you should consume about 53 grams of fat
If you eat 2,200 calories a day, you should consume about 73 grams of fat
If you eat 2800 calories per day, you should consume about 93 grams of fat
In addition, the USDA recommends consuming no more than 10% of daily calories from saturated fats and avoiding trans fats.
Is dietary fat bad for me?
The dietary fat you consume is either burned by your body as fuel or stored in your body as adipose tissue. Some fats are also found in plasma and other cells or are used to make important things such as hormones. Adipose tissue helps insulate the body and provides organ support and cushions.
People trying to lose weight may want to avoid dietary fat because they have more calories than carbohydrates and proteins. However, eating a moderate amount of dietary fat is important for good health. Dietary fat helps increase satiety and satisfaction after meals. This can help keep your overall calorie consumption down when paying attention to hunger signals.