The average woman needs about 2,000 calories per day to stay at her current weight, according to the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Less active women need fewer calories, while very active women need more. For healthy weight control, you should follow a balanced diet, which means that you don't take in too much fat. How much fat you need, however, depends on your lifestyle and the kind of fat you eat.
Percentage of Calories
The Institute of Medicine recommends that 45 to 65 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent from protein and the remainder -- about 20 to 35 percent -- from fat, giving you leeway to adjust your diet to suit your needs and lifestyle. A gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories, while a gram of fat has 9 calories, so if you take in 2,000 calories a day, 200 to 700 of those calories should be from fat. That equates to 22 to 78 grams of fat per day.
Not all fat is the same. The IOM recommends avoiding saturated fat, which, in excess, can raise your cholesterol, harden your arteries and eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. When you shop for food, read labels to make sure that products contain more healthy fats than saturated fat. The IOM recommends that women get 12 to 13 grams of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids per day. These are found in nuts, seeds, some vegetable-based oils and fatty fish.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2009 "What We Eat in America" report, the average American woman takes in about 70 grams of fat per day, which amounts to about 630 calories from fat. If she takes in 2,000 total calories, fat represents 32 percent of her diet, putting her at the uppermost level of the IOM's recommended intake range. Nearly one-third of the average woman's fat intake is from saturated fat, indicating that most women are getting too much harmful fat in their diets.
Reducing Your Fat Intake
If you are trying to lose weight, you can reduce your total caloric intake by eating less fat. Making a few simple changes can lower your percentage of calories coming from fat. Use mustard rather than mayonnaise on your sandwiches. Opt for clear, rather than creamy, soups. Eat more whole-grain foods and protein, which satisfy your appetite and help you resist the urge to snack between meals. Because fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrates, replacing fat will automatically lower the number of calories you take in.
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.