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How Much Fat Should I Eat in a Day?

Apr 11, 2008
Almost all nutritious food has fat in it. Fats are used for a variety of purposes including transporting vital nutrients to cells, assisting in digestion of certain foods, and providing us with energy in times of nutrient depletion. To be healthy you can't, and shouldn't, stay away from fat.

Still we find ourselves asking: how much fat should I eat in a day? What are the pros and cons of eating low-fat or fat-free? What kind of fat should I be eating most? Which foods provide healthy fats and which foods will kill me quickly? As with eating carbs and eating protein, it all depends on a couple factors:

* current bodyweight
* dietary goals
* cholesterol profile
* activity level
* lifestyle
* time of day

The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary fat to 30% of total calories. Take into consideration however, if you are overweight, need to lower blood cholesterol, or have another medical concern, you may need less than the recommended 30%.

Why do I Need to Eat Fat?

Fats perform many vital roles to aid in the body's functions. Triglycerides, the main form of fat found in the body and in foods, constitute most of the stored energy in the body. Fat molecules (9 calories per gram) provide more than twice as much energy per gram as carbohydrates calories and protein (4 calories per gram).

The free fatty acids released from triglycerides are the major source for fuel for the body at rest and during light activity. This is especially true in a glycogen depleted state, in which the body turns to fat for nearly all of its energy.

Lipids (fats) in foods also carry fat-soluble vitamin A ,D, E and K to the small intestine. In doing so, they aid in absorption of these nutrients. Without fat you are at risk for developing deficiencies of these vitamins.

Eating foods that are high in fat helps us moderate our appetite through two means:

1. fat slows down the digestion processing, causing the stomach to empty more slowly than either carbohydrates or protein
2. fat also satiates hunger; you feel more satisfied after eating when you consume a meal higher in fat

If you reduce your fat intake below 20% of total energy intake, you might get hungry quicker.

The essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are substances that need to come from the diet. They are necessary building materials for molecules and compounds that perform such vital functions in your body as regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, immune response and childbirth. Excellent sources of these essential fatty acids are foods containing canola or soybean oil, sardines, tuna, and salmon.

Another thing to be aware of is when fat is removed from a product, something else must be added, usually carbohydrates in the form of refined processed sugar, in order to maintain a desirable taste and texture. For this reason, many low-fat and fat-free products are still very energy dense since they still contain a high amount of calories from carbohydrates rather than fat.

Remember that calories count too; no matter if they come from fat, carbohydrates or protein so be sure to moderate your portions even when eating fat-reduced foods. By now everyone is aware that the increase in the number of low fat foods is directly proportional to the American public's average weight going up, up, up. Low fat and fat free foods are not the magic solution for weight loss, and can often lead to nasty diseases such as type II diabetes.

Why Should I Stay Away From Fat?

The answer is simple: you shouldn't. The folks that should really stay away from fat the most are those with high cholesterol, and even then, they should be sure to consume the proper ratio and amounts of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy. If you have been told by your doctor that you need to reduce cholesterol, you should attempt to stay away from pork, beef, and eggs. Also check labels often for cholesterol content, because something like a salad dressing might contain more cholesterol than you think.

If you are extremely overweight, you will probably want to go easy on the fat only because it is so calorie dense. But in the same respect, if you are willing to bring your carbohydrate intake under 100 grams per day, then you should replace those lost carbs with protein and healthy fats.

When Should I Stay Away From Fat?

During the day you will probably want to stay away from fat late at night, and anytime near or around a workout. You want glycogen to be readily available, so you won't want slow down digestion by consuming fat before or during a workout. Doing so would also steal blood away from your extremities to send to the stomach to assist with digestion. It may sound petty, but every little bit counts.

You also want to get fat-free glycogen back into the muscles ASAP after training. Therefore your post workout shake should contain 0 grams of fat if possible.

In conclusion we can say that fat is good. Deriving 30-40% of your daily calories from fat is acceptable. Try to eat healthy fats from fruits, veggies, fish, eggs, nuts, and canola/soybean/olive oil. Minimize trans fats and saturated fats, making sure not to eat fats that are solid at room temperature like butter and animal fat. Try not to cook with fat either, since cooking healthy fats actually makes them unhealthy fats.

Eating a lower calorie, higher protein, higher healthy fat, lower carb kind of diet is one sure way to stay healthy and lose some weight. This is the type of lifestyle that can be permanent and effective!
About the Author
Steve Hanson has 10 years experience in the fields of exercise science and sports nutrition. He writes articles on all forms of athletic training and nutritional theories. View the blog to learn more about your favorite exercise and nutrition topics.

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