Fats provide more than just delightful taste and palatability – they provide essential fatty acids necessary for health and serve as a conduit for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Fats are also very high in calories for every gram consumed:

Fat 9 calories per gram
Alcohol 7 calories per gram
Protein 4 calories per gram
Carbs 4 calories per gram

Eating low-fat (less than 30% of total calories) is just one approach to control calories intake. The Institute of Medicine considers an acceptable intake of fat to be 20% — 35% of total calories intake. That range supports a wide range of eating styles, including low fat/high carb, Mediterranean Diet, and versions of low carb/high protein and fat. For weight loss, the bottom line is still calories. As long as your total calories intake is less than your total calories burned, you will lose weight. MyNetDiary allows you to personalize fat, carb, and protein grams so that you can meet your weight goal with your preferred eating style. For more information on calories and weight control, please read “Planning Weight & Calories”

Do We Need Fat in Our Diet?

Yes! There are four main types of fats found in foods: polyunsaturated , monounsaturated , saturated , and trans fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered beneficial for health whereas saturated and trans fats are considered to promote heart disease to varying degrees.

Our bodies cannot manufacture two specific types of polyunsaturated fats so those need to be consumed daily: Linoleic Acid (an omega-6 fat) and Alpha Linolenic Acid (an omega-3 fat). Our bodies can make the other types of fats needed for cellular maintenance, growth, and repair. The Institute of Medicine’s “Adequate Intake” for these essential fatty acids is easily met when fat intake is not severely restricted, the body is able to appropriately digest, absorb, and metabolize fat, and a variety of vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds are consumed regularly. For gram amounts by life stage, please see the Dietary Reference Intake for fats online.

Good sources of essential fatty acids (in order of highest to lowest content):

Linoleic Acid (omega-6 fat) Alpha Linolenic Acid (omega-3 fat)
Safflower Flax
Sunflower Walnut
Walnut Canola (rapeseed)
Soybean Soybean

For detailed information on dietary fats, please read the Institute’s online chapter on fats. If you enjoy cartoons, then I recommend the Walnut Board’s flip chart on fats.

What About Fish Oil?

Cold water fish (e.g. salmon) are high in DHA and EPA, both polyunsaturated omega-3 fats. These heart healthy fats are not considered essential in the diet since we can produce them from Alpha Linolenic Acid. However, the conversion rate is low and is affected by other types of fats in the diet. Some researchers have argued that DHA should be considered an essential fatty acid, especially for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, there are recommendations regarding DHA intake for vegetarians from the American Dietetic Association. If you are concerned about mercury in fish, please see “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mercury” from the University of Alabama Birmingham.

The Other Fats

Type Recommended Intake Notes
Not an essential fatty acid. Dietitians often set goal at 10 — 15% of total calories to make up remainder of fat calories after meeting polyunsaturated fat goals of 10 — 15% and limiting saturated and trans fat goals. Considered heart healthy. Replacing saturated and trans fats with mono fats can help lower LDL levels without lowering the healthy HDL levels. Plentiful in olives, olive oil, peanuts, peanut oil, canola oil, avocado, and nuts (except walnuts), pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Not an essential fatty acid. The American Heart Association recommends an intake of less than 7% total calories to reduce risk of heart disease. Higher saturated fat intake is associated with higher LDL levels. Plentiful in animal fat, full-fat dairy products, and in tropical fats and oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.
Not an essential fatty acid. The American Heart Association recommends an intake of less than 1% total calories to reduce risk of heart disease. Ideally, intake would be zero grams. Trans fats are considered the most harmful to health since they have the strongest effect on raising LDL levels. Trans fats are rarely found naturally in foods-intake is almost all from partially hydrogenated oils in processed foods such as traditional stick margarine, vegetable shortening, deep-fat frying oil, pastries, pies, cookies, cakes, and in some brands of popcorn.

MyNetDiary & Fat Intake Assessment

For more information on how to customize goals for total fat, poly, mono, saturated, and trans fats, please read “Customizing Your Nutrient Goals.”

Essential Fatty Acids

Since nutrition labels are not required to include Linoleic or Linolenic Acid content, packaged foods are missing this data. Because there is so much missing data you cannot set goals for essential fatty acids in MyNetDiary. If you follow a very low fat diet or a very low calories intake diet, then please consult with your health care providers to insure adequate intake of these essential fatty acids given your unique medical condition.

Why Mono and Poly Fats Look Low

Nutrition labels in the United States are not required to list grams of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats so there is a lot of missing data for packaged foods. Unfortunately, this means that our charts and reports underestimate true polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat intake.

Parting Thoughts

There are many options for including healthful fats in the diet. With attention to including a variety of plant oils, nuts, and seeds in your diet, you can meet your need for essential fatty acids while also providing your body with calories that are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. The last step is perhaps insuring adequate levels of DHA intake from cold water fish and seafood, or from supplements (fish oil or microalgae).

Simple ways to increase healthy fats in the diet: add toasted nuts or seeds to salads, add edamame (soybeans) to pasta and salads, replace mayo with guacamole in sandwiches, add avocado to salads, bake with canola oil, use olive oil for salad dressings, vegetable roasting, and sautéing, experiment with different nut oils for salad dressings, use different types of nut butters for sandwiches, and try to eat fish/seafood twice a week.

If you have questions about the material covered in this article, please be sure to post them in Community Forum.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

This article can be found at http://www.mynetdiary.com/dietary-fats.html