Fats, along with Carbohydrates, Proteins and Water make up the 4 Macronutrients our body needs in order to function, all of which we can get from eating a healthy diet.
Fats are an important nutrient and source of energy. Dietary fat, the fat that we eat, helps our body make hormones and cell membranes, helps with digestion, absorption of certain vitamins and is vital in helping us maintain healthy skin.
In spite of the critical role dietary fat plays in our bodily functions each day, fat is still a four-letter word in the minds of many.
There is no argument that eating too much fat is harmful to our health. Excess dietary fat along with too much sugar and highly processed carbohydrates all contribute to a host of medical problems facing Americans today. Fat is high in calories relative to the other macronutrients; more than twice the calories, a whopping 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein.
All fats are not created equal, however. Fats are divided into two categories; saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats (think butter, cheese, lard, cream) are most commonly found in animal tissues. Unsaturated fats (think vegetable oil, avocado, nuts, olives) are most commonly found in plants. A third category of fats is called Trans Fats. These are fats that have been engineered in a lab and are commonly found in many processed foods like commercially baked goods, snacks and fried foods.
A healthy diet contains some unsaturated fats in the form of foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, tofu, olives and avocado. One could argue that there is a little room in a healthy diet for saturated fats which come packaged in animal sourced foods like beef, chicken, pork, dairy and fish. Eating a small amount of these foods may not be problematic provided the balance of the remaining diet is largely one that is whole food and plant-based. Unfortunately, most Americans eat significantly more than a small amount of these types of animal based foods regularly, boosting their saturated fat intake beyond the healthy limits and there is little doubt that diets high in saturated fats contribute mightily to the large numbers of people suffering from cardiovascular disease and diabetes today.
A healthy diet will have no more than 30 % of calories coming from fats and 5-6% of those calories should be from saturated fats. For someone eating 2000 calories per day, that’s no more than 600 calories or 66 grams per day from fats with less than 120 of those calories or 13 grams per day from saturated fats. As an example, 1 slice of cheddar cheese has 6 grams of saturated fat, 1 egg has 5 grams of saturated fat, 3 ounces of beef has 5 grams of saturated fat, 1 sausage has 8 grams of saturated fat, 3 ounces of salmon fillet has 2.6 grams of saturated fat.