What Are Fats?

Dietary fat is one of three macronutrients: protein, carbs and fats.

Fats are considered essential, meaning that you must intake a sufficient amount for the proper function of the body. Plus, fats play a bigger role when losing weight, and tend to keep you fuller for longer.

Fats are the most calorically dense out of all three macronutrients and contains 9 calories per 1 gram. This makes it very easy to overeat, end up in a large calorie surplus and get fat in no time. Thus, it’s crucial to intake an appropriate amount. Healthy fats are generally found in foods like fish, nuts & seeds, avocado, oils, etc.

Whether it’s building lean muscle, losing fat without losing muscle or any other fitness goal. In this article, you will find all you need to know about dietary fat intake for optimal health and your fitness goals, specifically:

Types of Fat

There are three types of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans fats, however, not all of them are equal.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol level. This type of fat can be found in foods such as fish and oils from plants, unsaturated are classified as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats support your heart health, as well as maintain levels of so-called “good” HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol while reducing levels of “bad” LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol in your blood.

These fats are found in olive and rapeseed oils, avocados, nuts like almonds, brazils, cashew, macadamia, hazelnuts, and peanuts.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Same as monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can also maintain levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood.

Polyunsaturated fats have two main types of fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are considered essential fats, meaning that they cannot be made by our bodies, so we have to get these fats through foods. However, the majority of people consume enough omega-6, thus it is recommended to focus on eating enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish, like salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout. Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils, like sunflower, corn and rapeseed oils.

Saturated Fats

Studies show that there is no significant evidence that saturated fat consumption increases the risk of heart disease. Although replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Saturated fat can be found in foods such as fatty cuts of meat, dairy products like butter, cheese, cream, as well as palm oil and coconut oil.

Trans Fats

There is no known benefit of consuming trans fats, however, excess consumption of trans fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats can be found in meats and dairy products but at very low levels.

They are mostly found in foods with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. For instance processed foods, packaged foods and snacks like bakery goods, fried fast food, frozen foods, margarine, crackers, chips, etc.

Recommended Dietary Fat Intake by Type

Why Do We Need Fats

Sufficient proportion of fats is an essential part of a balanced diet, as healthy fats help:

Best Sources of Fats

As mentioned before, not all fat types and sources are equal. Excessive consumption of saturated fats and trans fats can harm you. While eating mostly unsaturated fat and controlling the intake of saturated fats can help your body function better.

Therefore, these are high-quality sources of fat you would want to eat for the most part:

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Fish – salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts & seeds – almonds, brazils, cashew, macadamia, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds etc.
  • Natural nut and seed butter
  • Full-fat dairy – milk, greek yoghurt, cheese
  • Oils – olive oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, coconut oil

To see a more extensive list of high-fat foods, check out this macro cheat sheet. It lists single-source, as well as multiple macro source foods. Using the cheat sheet you can easily build a plan with a lot of variety which should help you stay within daily macro targets.

How Much Fat per Day

Back in the day, many fitness enthusiasts were avoiding fats and ate fat-free options for the most part. Nowadays, the trend has shifted and it’s proven that fats are important for overall health. Thus, many fitness enthusiasts don’t shy off including more dietary fats when making a meal plan than before.

How much fat one should intake daily depends on a few factors. To find out the amount of fat that is appropriate for you want to look at your fitness goal and your eating habits.

How Much Fat per Day to Lose Weight

When following a cutting diet, fat intake is far more important than when you lean bulk or maintain. It’s suggested that around 15-30% of total calories should come from quality sources of fat.

For example, since 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, a person consuming 2000 kcal would eat between 33 – 66 grams of fats.

From my personal experience, I would advise staying in the 20-25% range. Mainly because it’s easy to under consume the necessary minimum amount of fat (~45 grams), especially if total daily calories are very low. Furthermore, higher fat intake may keep you satiated for longer.

Dietary Fat Intake to Lose Weight

How Much Fat per Day to Build Muscle

When you follow a lean bulk diet, it’s recommended to consume dietary fats in moderate amounts: 0.5 – 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Which is in the range of 1.1 – 3.3 grams per pound of body weight per day.

In other words, it’s about the same as having 15-30% of total calories coming from fats. As you would consume more calories on a lean bulk diet, it would be much easier to reach your minimal threshold of fat per day. Therefore, I would suggest staying in the range of 15-20%. Similar studies conducted in the same field also prove that such range works best for the majority of athletes.

Dietary Fat Intake to Build Muscle

How Much Fat per Day to Maintain

If your goal is maintaining current body weight then, as for most people, it’s probably best to stay in the range of 15-35% of total calories coming from dietary fats.

Lastly, I want you to understand that these numbers are not mandatory to follow to a T, as long as you reach a minimum threshold of fats. This means that you can increase your fat intake as much as you want while decreasing carbohydrates and staying within an appropriate total calorie range.

Thus, it’s up to you what diet you prefer, whether you want to follow a low-fat, moderate-fat, high-fat or keto diet.

In fact, for the first time ever the 2015–2020 US Dietary Guidelines no longer specify an upper limit for fat intake. This suggests, once more, that you can interchange fats and carbs to your preference.

Final Thoughts

Fat is an essential macronutrient, meaning that our bodies may have difficulties to function properly in the case of dietary fat deficiency. Fats play a significant role in a balanced diet and contribute to overall health and longevity.

It’s best to consume high-quality unsaturated fats and a moderate amount of saturated fats found in avocado, olives, fish, nuts & seeds, healthy oils and dairy.

For most individuals, 15-35% of total calories should come from fats. Although it really depends on your personal preferences and can be interchangeable with carbs. The important thing is that you reach a nominal threshold of fats (~45 grams) and stay within your daily total calorie limit.

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