Does fat sound like something you should stop eating? Actually, your body needs some fat to grow and work well. Your body uses fats for energy, to make hormones, to keep your nerves healthy, and more. But it is important to make sure you eat the right types and amounts of fats.
What types of fats should I eat?
To take care of your health, you should think about a few types of fat:
Unsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat.
- You want most of the fats you eat to be unsaturated (say: uhn-SACH-uh-ray-tid) fats.
- Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods, like avocados, nuts, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, albacore tuna, trout, and mackerel, also have unsaturated fats.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 fatty acids) are a type of unsaturated fat that may boost heart health. You can get them from fatty fish (see previous bullet for examples) and from some plant foods, such as canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. You also can read the ingredients listed on the food package.
- If you want to know whether a food has unsaturated fats, look at the Nutrition Facts label on the package. They may be listed as monounsaturated (say: mon-noh-uhn-SACH-uh-ray-tid) or polyunsaturated (say: pol-ee-uhn-SACH-uh-ray-tid) fats.
Saturated fats are often in fats that are solid when at room temperature, like butter. They are a type of fat you should eat in only small amounts.
- Experts suggest you get less than 10% of your calories from saturated fats. That's not a lot, because small amounts of fat have a lot of calories. Look at the Nutrition Facts label to see the amounts of saturated fats in foods.
- Saturated fats are found in red meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb. They also are in animal products, such as butter and ice cream as well as whole-fat yogurt, cheese, and milk (but not fat-free dairy products because the fat has been removed). Watch out for them in foods like pizza, cakes, cookies, and hot dogs.
- Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils. These oils are often used in packaged cakes, cookies, and crackers.
Trans fats are often found in fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter. They are type of fat you should limit.
- Experts say to eat as little trans fat as possible. The nutrition label on the back of food packages lists the amount of trans fat.
- Trans fats are in "solid fats" like stick margarine. They also are found in fried foods, such as doughnuts and fried chicken.
- Trans fats are in some foods naturally but in very small amounts. Sometimes they are added to foods. When they are added, they may appear in the ingredients list as "hydrogenated" (say: heye-DROJ-uh-nay-tid) or "partially hydrogenated" oils. Read the Nutrition Facts label to see how much trans fats are in your food
- Trans fats are sometimes used in packaged cakes, cookies, and crackers.
Cholesterol is a type of food that's similar to fat and that you should limit.
- Too much cholesterol can lead to health problems, such as heart disease.
- Experts say to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. The nutrition label on the back of a food package lists the amount of cholesterol in it.
- Some ways to cut back on cholesterol include eating fewer products that come from animals such as meat and ice cream.
How much fat should I eat?
The scoop on fat is pretty simple. Even though unsaturated fats are a better choice than other fats, you still don't want to eat a lot of them. Fat has more than twice as many calories per unit of measure than carbs and protein have. So, eating too much fat may increase your calories too much, which can cause you to gain too much weight. And being overweight or obese can cause serious health problems.
Want an idea of how much fat to eat? You should aim for a total of fat that's between 25% and 35% of all the calories you eat in a day. If you eat around 2,000 calories in a day, that means you would eat around 500 calories from fat.
Here's another way to think about it: The Nutrition Facts label on food packages tell you the % Daily Value, which is the percent for the day in that item. So, if your brownie says, "50% Daily Value" for fat, then you likely have eaten around half your fat for the day.
Some great ways to cut your fat is to limit how much you eat of foods like fatty meats, skin on poultry, and packaged cakes and cookies.
Content last reviewed September 22, 2009
Page last updated October 31, 2013