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How Many Grams of Fat Per Day is Healthy... And Answers About Saturated Fat Foods

Updated on June 7, 2012

In order to address how many grams of fat per day is healthy, we first need to understand a few things about the different types of fats.

We often hear health care professionals touting the benefits of a low fat diet, which at first might seem fairly straightforward. Okay, fine, we think, we’ll cut down on fats by examining labels, cutting out fried and fast foods, as well as using common sense. The trouble is, not all fats are created equal, some fat is necessary for a healthy diet, and some fat is actually good for you. Then we’re inundated with terms like saturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated, and trans fats and suddenly “low fat” becomes a lot more complicated. It’s necessary to make heads or tails out of these terms in order to eat a healthy, low fat diet. Then it becomes a matter of knowing how to balance the good and bad fats into your daily fat intake to ensure maximum health.

Just What Are Healthy Fats?

Healthy fats play an important role in lowering your risk of heart disease by lowering “bad cholesterol”, also known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein). When too much LDL cholesterol is circulating in your blood, it can begin to stick on the inner artery walls that feed both your heart and your brain. With a number of other substances, this LDL build-up can begin forming plaque. Plaque is a hard, thick deposit that turns a once flexible artery into one that’s narrow and “hard”, thus the term “hardening of the arteries”. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis. A heart attack or stroke results from the plaque breaking apart and blocking critical blood flow to the heart or brain. Healthy fats also play a role in both reducing inflammation and stabilizing heart rhythms

The healthy fats are the unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can also raise HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol levels, the “good cholesterol”. Some experts theorize that HDL cholesterol has a positive “scouring effect” on the arteries, cleaning out excess cholesterol buildup that’s prime breeding ground for the formation of plaque. Polyunsaturated fats come in two groups: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have demonstrated the role omega-3 fatty acids play in preventing fatal cardiac arrhythmias. These fatty acids are essential fats your body needs to function, and are only available to us through the food we consume. Our bodies are incapable of making these essential fatty acids

A Look at Good Fats and Bad Fats


Just What are Unhealthy Fats and Saturated Fat Foods?

Our bodies don’t need saturated fat from food, since we produce all we need on our own. This is why it wreaks havoc on our cardiovascular system when we pile on unnecessary saturated fats from foods. The healthy fats reduce LDL cholesterol while the unhealthy fats actually raise LDL. All dietary fat actually raises HDL, so saturated fat is no exception. The trouble comes from its LDL cholesterol raising effects.

The worst of the bunch are trans fats. It’s has a doubly whammy effect by raising the bad cholesterol and lowering the good cholesterol. Trans fats are either man made or natural. Small amounts of natural trans fats are in a variety of foods we eat. The artificial variety is made by a process called hydrogenation where hydrogen is added gradually added to liquid unsaturated oils turning them to solids. These are more useful in their solid state for food manufacturers.

This popcorn has trans fat!
This popcorn has trans fat! | Source

Food Label Problems

The bad news is food manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat content on food labels. This can make it even more difficult for people attempting to incorporate these healthy foods into their diets. The good news for you is there is a way to calculate the amount yourself. Food labels are required to list the amount of saturated and trans fats on labels. So, you will simply add the trans fat plus the saturated fat and subtract it from the total fat on the label to determine the combined amount of mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Deciphering nutritional information labels can be tricky business, especially when it comes to trans fat content. In the U.S, if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, the content can read 0 grams of trans fat. Of course that’s a small amount, but eating even a few foods with this scant content will quickly add up and put you over the healthy limits.

Saturated Fat Foods

Foods are High in Monounsaturated Fats:

Some oils: Olive, canola, and peanut oils are good sources of monounsaturated fats. This is probably one explanation for the extraordinary health of people following the Mediterranean diet, which utilizes a lot of olive oil.

Avocados are a fruit packed with this healthy oil.

Don’t forget your nuts and seeds! Pecans, almonds and hazelnuts have high concentrations of monounsaturated oil, like sesame and pumpkin seeds.

Foods High in Polyunsaturated Fats:

Some vegetable oils (NOT ALL) are high in polyunsaturated fats, particularly: safflower, corn, soy, walnut, sunflower, flaxseed, and cottonseed oils.

Walnuts and flaxseeds are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish: salmon, mackerel and sardines will provide you with an excellent dose of these omega-3 fatty acids.

Beef in high in saturated fat, so consume sparingly!
Beef in high in saturated fat, so consume sparingly! | Source

The Bad Fats: What Foods to Avoid

There are roughly 24 different saturated fats and some of them are more unhealthy than others. Foods derived from animal products have high levels of saturated fats. Particularly bad are cheese, lard, whole milk and butter. Beef is high in saturated fat and is the reason we’re warned to consume it in moderation.

Oils: Coconut, palm and some other tropical oils, although vegetable oils, are high in saturated fat.

Strangely, pure chocolate contains saturated fat, but it’s not harmful. Its saturated fat is of the stearic acid variety that actually lowers LDL levels. See, they’re not ALL bad.

Packaged foods and processed foods are a major source of trans fats. A good rule of thumb is to assume all of these products have trans fat until further label investigation! As of 2006, food labels must list the amount of trans fat, and look for the words: partially hydrogenated oil as your red flag. They’re especially abundant in some cookies, cakes, doughnuts, crackers, breads, margarine and even dairy products. They also lurk in the frozen food section in various forms, waffles are a good example. Remember, trans fats occur naturally in meats and dairy products. The only danger here is for people who eat a lot of full fat dairy and high fat meat.

Fast food restaurants still haven’t gotten the message and many of the foods are swimming in trans fat, French fries are a great example

How Many Grams of Fat Per Day, then?

Both the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) recommend consuming no more than 30% of your daily calories from fat. In order to figure out the exact amount of fat grams you’re “allowed” you need to first know how many calories you’re consuming in a day. Then, multiply that number by 0.35 and divide by 9, which is the number of calories per each gram of fat. This is the absolute highest amount of fat you should be consuming, with most of it being from poly and monounsaturated sources. Saturated fat should be less than 10% of your total daily caloric intake. The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat should be less than 7% of your total daily intake, however.

There has yet to be an upper limit for the amount of trans fat intake set by the USDA or HHS. However, the American Heart Association has thankfully put its two cents in on the topic. It recommends consuming no more than 1% of your total daily calories from trans fat. For the majority of people, this translates into less than 2 grams per day. The message is: try to eat as little trans fat as humanly possible!

What Constitutes a Low Fat Diet?

Any diet is considered low fat if no more than 30% of calories consumed are from fat. A very low fat diet can have adverse HDL lowering effects. The results from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed the negative effects on HDL when people were consuming only 18% of their daily calories from fat. So, going lower certainly doesn’t mean better, under 20% is not recommended.


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