Fat is an important part of your diet, but figuring out how much to eat can be confusing.
Over the last 50 years, everyday diets have gone from moderate-fat to low-fat, based on recommendations from health organizations.
However, the 2015–2020 US Dietary Guidelines no longer specify an upper limit for how much total fat you should consume.
This article takes a detailed look at different types of fat and provides suggestions for how much to eat per day.
You consume fat in the form of triglycerides. A triglyceride molecule is made up of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone. The fatty acids contain chains of carbons and hydrogens.
One way fats are classified is by the length of their carbon chains:
- Short-chain fatty acids: Fewer than 6 carbons.
- Medium-chain fatty acids: 6–12 carbons.
- Long-chain fatty acids: 13–21 carbons.
- Very-long-chain fatty acids: 22 or more carbons.
Most of the fats you eat are long-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids are mainly produced when bacteria ferment soluble fiber in your colon, although milk fat also contains small amounts.
Long-chain and very-long-chain fats are absorbed into the bloodstream and released into the body's cells as needed. However, short-chain and medium-chain fats are taken up directly by the liver to be used as energy.
Bottom Line: Fats are one of the three macronutrients. They are absorbed from food and used by the body for energy and other functions.
Fat performs a number of functions and provides several health benefits:
- Energy: Fat is an excellent energy source. It provides 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs each provide 4 calories per gram.
- Hormone and gene regulation: Fats regulate the production of reproductive and steroid hormones, as well as genes involved in growth and metabolism (1, 2).
- Brain function: Adequate fat intake is important for brain health, including mood (3, 4).
- Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E and K must be consumed with fat to be properly absorbed.
- Flavor and fullness: Adding fat to foods makes them tastier and more filling.
The fat stored inside your body helps insulate your organs, keeps you warm and provides a vast source of energy that you can use in the case of famine.
Bottom Line: Fats provide a number of benefits for your body, including serving as an energy source, regulating hormones and genes, maintaining brain health and making food more tasty and satisfying.
Regardless of the type of diet you follow, it's important to get a balance of different types of healthy fats every day.
Fortunately, many delicious foods can provide the fat you need.
While most foods contain a mixture of different fats, some are especially high in certain types.
Below are examples of foods rich in different types of healthy fats.
Monounsaturated fats are found in most plant and animal foods, but some foods are especially rich in them.
- Olive oil
- Macadamia nuts
All of these foods also contain omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-6 fats are present in most plant and animal foods, including those mentioned above.
However, getting adequate omega-3 fats takes a little more work.
Foods rich in omega-3s include:
Healthy foods that are high in saturated fat include:
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
- Whole-milk dairy, such as full-fat yogurt
- Mascarpone cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- Lamb meat
Bottom Line: Choose a variety of healthy foods that provide fats from each of the different groups every day, especially omega-3 fats.
Fats serve a number of important functions, along with making foods taste better and helping you feel satisfied.
Fortunately, a rather large range of fat intake is actually considered healthy.
Eating the right amounts and right types of fat can go a long way toward reducing disease risk and enhancing your overall health.