Recommendations for fat intake

Because some dietary fats are potentially helpful and others potentially harmful to your health, it pays to know which ones you're eating and whether you're meeting recommendations.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans offers the following recommendations about dietary fat intake:

  • Avoid trans fat.
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories a day.
  • Replace saturated fat with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Be aware that many foods contain different kinds of fat and varying levels of each type. For example, butter contains unsaturated fats, but a large percentage of the total fat is saturated fat. And canola oil has a high percentage of monounsaturated fat but also contains smaller amounts of polyunsaturated and saturated fat.

What changes should I make to my diet?

Focus on replacing foods high in saturated fat with foods that include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

But a word of caution — don't go overboard even on healthy fats. All fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of other types of fat, not in addition to them.

Here are some tips to help you make over the fat in your diet:

  • To avoid trans fat, check food labels and look for the amount of trans fat listed. By law a serving of food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as 0 grams. Therefore, it's important to also check ingredient lists for the term "partially hydrogenated."
  • Use oil instead of solid fats. For example, saute with olive oil instead of butter, and use canola oil when baking.
  • Prepare fish, such as salmon and mackerel, instead of meat at least twice a week to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Limit sizes to 4 to 6 ounces of cooked seafood a serving, and bake or broil seafood instead of frying.
  • Choose lean meat and skinless poultry. Trim visible fat from meat and poultry, and remove skin from poultry.
  • Snack smart. Many popular processed snack foods are high in fat, especially solid fats. Be sure to check food labels for saturated fat. Better yet, snack on whole fruits and vegetables.

What about very low-fat diets?

If watching fat content is a good strategy, is it even better to try to eliminate all fat from your diet? No.

First, your body needs some fat — the healthy fats — to function normally. If you try to avoid all fat, you risk getting insufficient amounts of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Also, in attempting to remove fat from your diet, you may wind up eating too many processed foods touted as low-fat or fat-free rather than healthier and naturally lower fat foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Instead of doing away with fat in your diet, enjoy healthy fats in moderation.

Feb. 02, 2016 See more In-depth