Fats and high-fat foods are often the first items ditched when women want to lose weight, but eliminating fats from your diet is an unhealthy extreme. Dietary fats are just as essential as your daily protein and carbohydrates. The secret is to consume the right amount of the healthy types of fats. You'll get enough to meet your needs if 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories come from fats.
Reasons You Need Fats
Fat provides a concentrated source of stored energy, with 9 calories in each gram of fat, compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates. Some types of fat help keep your skin supple by forming the barrier that keeps it hydrated. The structure and function of every cell in your body depends on fats, and your nerves won’t work properly without them. Also, you can’t digest and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K unless fat is present.
Total Daily Fat Grams
Rather than establish a specific recommended daily allowance, the Institute of Medicine determined that 20 to 35 percent of women’s daily calories should come from fats. This range represents the minimum amount needed to maintain optimal health and the most you can eat without increasing your risk of developing chronic diseases. Women who follow a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet need to get 240 to 420 calories from fat, because those values represent 20 to 35 percent of total calories. That translates into 27 to 47 grams of fat daily.
Grams of Saturated and Trans Fats
Saturated fats increase the amount of artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream. Trans fats are worse because they increase the bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 7 percent of total daily calories, which means no more than 9 grams of saturated fat based on eating 1,200 calories daily. If you can’t eliminate trans fats, limit them to less than 1 gram daily.
Your body needs cholesterol to produce sex hormones and vitamin D, but it also makes all the cholesterol you need. Dietary cholesterol may only have a small impact on the amount of cholesterol in your blood, but if your levels get high, it harms your arteries and contributes to cardiovascular disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. You can consume up to 0.3 grams of cholesterol as part of your total daily fat intake, according to the American Heart Association. If your cholesterol is already high, then lower your intake to less than 0.2 grams daily.
As much as possible, get your daily 27 to 47 grams of fat from unsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol and fight inflammation that can cause diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Monounsaturated fats come from nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, such as canola, peanut and olive oils. The polyunsaturated fats are more commonly known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s from fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and tuna are especially important, but you’ll also get them from walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are also good sources of omega-6 fatty acids.
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images