Face the Facts - Information about Fats

Fat is one of the components of foods that provide us with calories and nutrients we need.

Some of the fat in food is essential -  meaning we need to eat it every day - to be healthy.

Why is fat important to eat?

Dietary fat is necessary for normal growth and development. Fat is a major component of all cell membranes, which protect each of our 60 trillion cells.  Fat insulates our nerves and protects our organs.  Even our brains are composed of a large amount of fat!  Fats are necessary for building hormones and controlling factors in our bodies.  We also need fat to absorb nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Most people know fat provides us with energy or calories.  Because fat is so dense, it can help us feel satisfied and it makes food tasty.  But, we must limit the total amount we eat, because too much can contribute to excess fat deposited in our bodies, increasing our risk for disease.

The amount of fat that is healthy to eat is determined by how many calories we need each day.  Adults and kids 2 years and older should eat about 20 - 30% of their calories from fat.  For most people, that would equal about 40 - 75g a day. You can check food labels to see how much fat is in certain foods.  For example:

  • 2 tbsp (1 serving) of peanut butter has 16g of fat
  • 1 tsp of butter has 5g of fat
  • 1 oz regular cheese has 8g of fat;  reduced fat cheese can range from 3-6g/oz
  • 1 egg has 5g of fat
  • 1 cup 1% milk has 2g of fat; 2% milk has 5g/cup and whole milk has 8g/cup

Younger people, growing kids, and athletes need more calories and fat each day. The older and less active we are, the less we need.

The kind of fat you choose is important too!

  • Unsaturated fats are typically the healthiest to choose.  This includes fat in nuts and seeds, avocado, fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, and oils like olive and canola.
  • Saturated fats and trans/fats are less healthy and can raise your risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer.  Saturated fats are found in animal products like meat and the skin of poultry, and in dairy products like cheese, butter and milk that isn't skim. Coconut and palm oils, used in packaged products, are also saturated.
  • Trans/fats are man-made, "hydrogenated" fats often found in packaged products. These are thought to be the least healthy to eat and should be limited most.

So remember, fats are ESSENTIAL nutrients we need to eat daily.  Pay attention to the types you eat and how much to be your healthiest!

Written by:  Mary Jo Parker, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Consultant to Personal Touch Food Services, Inc.