We are used to seeing reminders about including enough fiber and protein in our diets, but what about fat? It can be confusing to understand the role that dietary fat plays in our health.

Along with carbohydrates and protein, fat is one of three nutrients needed by the body. Fat helps give us energy, protects our organs and supports cell growth and it helps our bodies absorb vitamins and other vital nutrients.

We need fats in our diet, but we also need to be mindful of how much and which kinds of fat we are eating. To make healthy choices when planning your meals, it helps to understand more about the types of dietary fats in the foods we eat. Here’s the scoop, based on information from the American Academy of Dietetics.

From “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Three types of fats

  1. Saturated fat is found in animal products, including beef, pork and higher-fat dairy foods like butter, margarine and cheese. Highly processed foods also can have higher amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fat is considered an unhealthy dietary fat because it has been linked to heart disease and other health problems. Too much saturated fat in our diets can raise our LDL cholesterol – also known as our “bad” cholesterol – which can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
  2. Unsaturated fats are the heart-healthy kinds found in plants. There are two kinds of unsaturated fats. One is monounsaturated, which can be found in avocados; nuts like almonds and cashews; seeds like pumpkin and sesame; and in plant oils, such as olive, peanut and canola. These fats help to increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol in the body.
  3. Polyunsaturated fats are found in plant-based oils like soybean, corn and sunflower; nuts including walnuts and flaxseeds; and in fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and tuna. Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat that help with brain function and cell growth. The body can’t make these, so they must come from food.

How much fat is OK?

To get the most bang for your nutritional buck, consider replacing your saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting no more than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fat. Keep your total fat consumption to no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories. This includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Even though the unsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats, they still contain 9 calories per gram, so serving sizes of healthy fats should not exceed your daily calorie needs.

ChristianaCare’s Nutrition Services is a team of highly trained, experienced registered dietitians who provide direct nutrition counseling and support. Individual nutrition counseling is available to anyone who wishes to eat a healthier diet, whether to lose weight, improve cardiovascular health or even just feel better. To schedule an appointment call 302-623-3053.