Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Much Fat Do I Need In My Diet?

Believe it or not, fat is essential for good nutrition. There are components in some fats known as essential fatty acids. They are essential to our good health. At times people have tried to follow extremely low fat diets in attempts to lose weight, and suffered deficiency symptoms such as scaly, dried skin and thinning, falling hair. Fat is necessary in our body to keep our temperature controlled, pad our organs from shock, and serve as a back-up for times we may require extra calories. Unfortunately, most Americans get far too much of it in our diets and this can contribute to obesity and other problems. So what's the right amount and how can we get enough without getting too much?

The amount of fat you really need per day is quite low--only about 10 or 20 grams. Recommended guidelines for dietary fat restrict total fat to 30% or less of your daily calories. If you follow an 1800 calorie diet, for example, this means no more than 600 calories should be from fat. There are 9 calories per gram of fat, so dividing 600 (calories) by 9 (calories/gram), we find the suggested dietary fat content to be about 66 grams per day. Saturated fat should compose less than 10% of the calories, or in this case, 20 grams.

It's not difficult to keep the fat in your diet under 30% if you eat a diet composed largely of grains, fruits, vegetables, lowfat dairy products, and lean meats and fish. Keeping the fat intake low becomes very difficult if you include high fat meats (like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, or bologna); if you eat fried foods (donuts, fried chicken, french fries, onion rings); if you indulge in desserts (such as pies, cakes, most cookies, chocolate bars, regular ice cream or milkshakes); or if you add fat to your food (in the form of salad dressing, butter or margarine, mayonnaise, sour cream, etc). To keep the fat in your diet to a reasonable level, consider reducing the high fat foods you eat listed above (high fat meats, desserts, fried foods, and spreads). A reasonable serving of meat is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. And we really can get enough fat in our diet without frying foods or adding mounds of butter and other sauces.

People who are in danger of not getting adequate amount of fat usually have very restrictive diets. They look for ways to reduce their fat intake by buying "low fat" varieties of any food they can; they avoid even healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados; they never add oil or spreads to any food. Often they are trying to lose weight; sometimes they believe they are eating healthy by limiting their diet severely to just a few types of fruits, vegetables and grains; occasionally they are suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia.

Fats are essential in our diets and in our bodies. Cases are rare, but do exist, when people suffer essential fatty acid deficiency. But most often, too much fat is consumed in the American diet. To keep your fat at a reasonable level, the following steps will help:
1) Take a good look at the foods you're eating and pay attention to the fat content on the food labels (how many grams there are in a serving--not what the front of the label advertises as "30% less fat"--that doesn't tell you what you need to know).
2) Avoid eating fatty and fried foods if you are eating heart-healthy or trying to lower your weight or your blood cholesterol.
3) Don't strive for a fat-free diet with zero animal products, no added oils, and all 'low fat' varieties of packaged foods. We do need fat in our diet; just remember we rarely need more than 10 or 20 grams.
4) Aim for less than 30% of your calories from fat and you'll be getting just the right balance for your best health.

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