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Diet and Nutrition

How many grams of fat does your body need?

01/24/1999

Question:

If you had a % of body fat that would be considered perfect. How many fat grams a day should you eat? My question is how many grams a fat does your body need per day?

Answer:

Thanks for your question. The total amount of fat in your body is divided into 2 parts: essential fat and storage fat. Essential fat is needed for proper functioning of certain body structures (brain, nerve tissue, bone marrow, heart tissue and cell membranes). Essential fat in males is approximately 3%. In females, it is higher (12-15) due to reproductive hormones.

Storage fat is a depot for excess energy, and the quantity of this fat may vary considerably. Some storage fat is needed for protection of body organs (insulation). Over 50% of total body fat is found as subcutaneous fat (fat right under the skin).

Typical/average body fat for men is 15%, and 27% for women. When you speak of ideal, I suppose that is individual. If you are a body builder, the less fat, and more lean tissue, the better. Everyone has their own perception of "ideal."

As for how many grams of fat you should eat, this will also vary on your calorie level, and energy expenditure. On average, you should consume less than 30% of total calories as fat. If you eat 2000 calories per day, 30% of this total is 600 calories. In order to figure out the number of grams, divide 600 by 9 (there are 9 calories per gram of fat). So, your diet should have less than 66 grams of fat per day. For people with high blood cholesterol or those that need weight loss, this number may be even less.

Diets TOO low in fat are not healthy either. There are 2 essential fatty acids that the body cannot make, and must be derived from the diet. Most vegetable oils, grains, fish and leafy green vegetables will provide essential fatty acids. By eating a variety of foods from these food groups, you should meet your needs for essential fatty acids.

The type of fat in your diet will also affect your health. Foods high in saturated (solid) fat can harden your arteries and possibly lead to heart disease in the long run. Foods high in saturated fat come from animals and some vegetables (beef, chicken skin, whole milk, butter, dairy foods made from whole milk, avocado, palm kernel and coconut oils). These foods should be eaten in moderation (approximately 10% or less should be saturated). Trans fatty acids (found in margarine and processed foods) may also increase the risk of heart disease. These should also be eaten in moderation.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Current research has shown a benefit with monounsaturated fat (the kind in olive, canola and peanut oil). This fat aids in the production of HDL ("good" cholesterol) and may aid in the reduction of heart disease. Regular aerobic exercise also increases HDL levels, so if you work out, keep it up!

In conclusion, the safe minimum number of grams of fat per day would be approximately 40-60 grams per day (again, depending on your caloric intake). A Registered Dietitian can assist you with meal planning and low fat diet. I hope this information helped you. Good luck!

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati