How much fat does your body need each day to stay healthy?
A Top Santè reader asked our expert panel – Is there a minimum amount of fat intake the body needs to function properly? And if so – what type of fat should we be eating to stay healthy?
What exactly is fat?
Fat is one of the three main macronutrients, along with protein and carbohydrate. All types of fat are high in energy – a gram provides 9kcal of energy compared to 4kcal for protein or carbohydrates. It’s a necessary part of a balanced diet, but all too easy to over consume.
Why do I need to eat fat?
Fat gets a bad press, but you need it for long-term energy, to support cell growth, to protect your organs and to keep your body warm. It also helps your body to absorb crucial nutrients and produce hormones too, so it’s important to include fatty foods in your diet in moderation.
How much fat do I need per day?
The recommended fat intake is about 30 per cent of your daily energy needs (this equates to about 65g per day on a 2000-calorie diet). A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy diet, and is a source of essential fatty acids which your body can’t make by itself.
What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat?
Saturated fats mostly come from animal sources such as meat and dairy, but they are also found in some plant-based foods including coconut oil and palm oil. They include items such as fatty cuts of meat, junk food such as chocolate and biscuits, cheese and butter.
Unsaturated fats are mostly found in natural oils, from either fish or plants.
As with anything, it’s all about moderation. You need a certain amount of fat to be healthy, but need to be careful about quantities. Too much of either type – but particularly saturated fat – can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. The Government recommends cutting down on all fats, and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated where possible.
How much saturated fat is ok?
Roughly speaking, around 20-30% of your daily calories should come from fat. The Government recommends men shouldn’t have more than 30g of saturated fat per day, while for women it’s 20g.
Any fat not used by your body to create energy will be converted into body fat.
Can you eat too little fat?
There is no recommendation as such for the least amount of fat you can eat and, as you can imagine, this is not going to be an issue for most of the population! However, too little fat can cause all sorts of problems. Good fats, for example, help to balance out cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in the case of omega-3 fatty acids.
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What is a ‘healthy’ fat?
Healthy fats are unsaturated, natural fats that have lots of useful nutrients.
- Avocados – around 77% fat, and full of potassium (more than bananas!) and fibre
- Oily fish such as herring, salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines – fill of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein
- Nuts – full of fibre, protein and Vitamin E
- Extra virgin oil oil – full of antioxidants, Vitamin E and Vitamin K
- Cheese – it gets a bad rap but actually when eaten in moderation cheese is very nutritious and packed with calcium, B12 and protein
- Dark chocolate – it’s high in fat but unlike milk chocolate it’s high in fibre and packed with antioxidants.
What is the function of fat in the body?
Fat is also required by your body to make hormones and assists with the absorption of vitamins including A, E, D and K, so there is the potential for deficiency. Fat also helps to satiate so if your diet is low in fat then you are likely to feel hungry more quickly between meals.
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See more expert advice in the latest issue of Top Santè
Find out more about fat facts from the NHS