Dietary fat serves many important purposes and it is essential for good health. Unfortunately, with obesity rates exceeding 34% of our total adult population in the United States, consuming too much total dietary fat is certainly contributing to this issue. There are different types of dietary fat and it’s important to understand the role they play as well as how much is too much for optimal health.
The Important Functions of Fat
- Fat protects our vital organs. It provides cushion and protects us from trauma of important organs like our heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, brain and spinal cord to name a few.
- Fat helps us regulate heat. Fat is stored throughout the body with some just of it located below our skin. This subcutaneous fat provides insulation to keep us warm. Too much much of this stored fat can predispose people to a decreased ability to manage body temperature.
- Fat carries vitamins. The fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K rely on fat to be transported through the body. Insufficient fat can decrease the availability of these vitamins, leading to deficiencies and health problems.
- Fat suppresses hunger. It takes 3-4 hours after ingesting fats for the stomach to empty them. This can help promote feelings of satisfaction or “fullness” and suppress or manage appetite.
- Fat is a source of energy. When we are at rest, 80-90% of our energy comes from fat. Fat also provides energy for exercise. The amount and source of the fat used during exercise will depend on the nutritional and fitness status of the individual as well as the exercise intensity and duration.
Recommended Fat Intake
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that calories from fat should only be 10-35% of total caloric intake. Of those fat calories, no more than 10% should come from saturated fat. The American Cancer Society recommends calories from fat should be limited to 20% of total calories due to review of literature and the potential increase risk for certain types of cancer. The guidelines recommend replacing extra saturated fat consumption with more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, and poultry.
Good sources of unsaturated fat include nuts, seeds, legumes, avocados, olive oil, fish, and eggs. Pay attention to how and where your fish has been raised. Farm raised fish or fish coming from unsafe water systems that are high in toxins are not recommended. Liming read meat consumption, replacing eggs with egg whites, and replacing higher fat dairy products with lower fat versions can reduce saturated fat intake.
Dietary fat is necessary for good health. It is important to limit saturated fat and consume unsaturated fats within the recommended ranges to prevent health issues. Excessive fat consumption combined with a lack of activity can create an energy imbalance that will promote unhealthy weight gain. For information on healthy body weight and guidelines for healthy body fat percentages, you can visit the American Council on Exercise.