How Much Fat Should You Really Eat?

Learn everything you need to know to consume the right amount of fat for your body.

For a long time, fat was the enemy. Back then, the answer to, “How much fat should you really eat?” was little-to-none. Doctors and scientists believed that high-fat foods increased LDL cholesterol and led to heart disease. So, companies mass-produced low-fat versions of popular foods, offering up everything from frozen waffles to sour cream. Skim milk became the only recommended dairy product, eggs were the enemy, and red meat was a firm a no-go.

But, since fat, carbohydrates, and protein are all interrelated in a nutritional triangle, you can’t get rid of one macronutrient without increasing one of the other two. In fat’s place, carbs filled the void. Instead of munching on healthy complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and vegetables, most Americans turned to pasta, potatoes, and rice. What’s worse: the low-fat versions of packaged foods were loaded with sugar. Studies show that this low-fat obsession did little to reduce heart disease and actually may have created an obesity epidemic.

How Much Fat Should You Really Eat?

Flash forward a few decades and people are putting butter and MCT oil in their morning coffee. Breakfast is filled with sausage and eggs, lunch might be a double burger patty without the bun, and dinner could be bacon and cheese stuffed chicken breasts. No one is worried about healthy fats anymore, and programs like Atkin’s, Paleo plans, and Keto diets officially flipped the food pyramid on its head. People started losing weight hand-over-foot and, more than that, they reported feeling great doing it. The low-carb, high-fat diet became a new lifestyle for most of its followers.

Which brings us to the question: How much fat should you really eat? Whether you’re already following a high-fat diet, or you’re interested in learning more about it, we explore the facts behind fat. Get ready to learn everything you wanted to know about staying healthy as you increase your fat intake.

What’s the Difference Between Healthy Fats and Unhealthy Fats?

Nutritionists generally divide fats into two categories: healthy fats and unhealthy fats. In addition to asking yourself how much fat should you really eat, you also need to consider the type of fat you’re consuming. To effectively lose weight, you’ll want a healthy intake of good fats while trying to avoid the unhealthy fats.

Trans fats are considered the “worst” fats. These are found in processed food, most packaged food, and fast food. These types of fats can be a danger to your heart health because they increase your LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels. When people talk about high-fat diets, they are not talking about increasing this type! You should try to severely limit your trans fat, whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight. The best way to limit your trans fat is to avoid products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients.

It’s also generally agreed upon that saturated fats are worse than unsaturated fats. These types of fats come from animal products and the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your intake to 5- or 6-percent of your daily calories. You can limit your saturated fats by choosing lean meats, like chicken breasts, and opting for 2-percent instead of whole milk.

Finally, we get to the “good” fats. Unsaturated fats are mostly found in plant-based foods, like nuts and avocados. You can also find them in omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods, like grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, and fatty fish, like salmon. These products are also high in healthy fats. The bulk of your high-fat intake should be from this group of fats.

How Much Fat Should You Really Eat to Lose Weight?

There’s no magic number that equates fat intake to weight loss. There are some general percentages you can follow (and we’ll talk about those specifically in a minute). You should always discuss any changes in diet with your doctor or nutritionist, as they can give you a more specific guideline for what’s right for your body type.

Overall, it’s very important to keep one thing in mind when consuming a high-fat diet: fat is more calorie-dense than carbohydrates or proteins. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories – as opposed the 4 calories for each gram of protein or carbohydrates. So, if you’re trying to keep your calories low, a high-fat diet might not be the best option for you.

What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Fat? 

The Dietary Guidelines for America recommends that a healthy percentage of your daily calories come from good fats. They define that healthy percentage as somewhere between 25- to 35-percent, depending on your body type and if you’re a male or female. And, as we mentioned earlier, your saturated fat intake should only be between 5- to 6-percent of your daily calorie intake, and you should try to avoid trans-fats altogether.

Another rule of thumb suggests that you eat 0.4 to 0.5 grams of fat per pound of your target body weight. So, if you wanted to weigh 145 pounds, you should eat 58 to 73 grams of fat per day. As you’ll see below, that amount is not too far off from the dietary guideline’s 2,000 calorie total.

Finally, the Keto diet has its own suggestions for recommended daily intake of fat. This program calculates the amount of fat based on macronutrients instead of target weight or caloric intake. In this model, calories from fat, carbohydrates, and proteins are viewed like a macronutrient pie-chart that totals 100-percent. Depending on your individual Keto program, fat could represent 60- to 75-percent of the total pie, with most of the remaining amount being protein.

How Many Grams of Fat Should You Eat in a Day?

The easiest way to calculate your own fat intake guidelines is to do some simple math. If you’re following the Dietary Guidelines model, take your daily calorie goal and multiply it by .25 or .35 (or, anywhere in between). Then, divide that number by 9 (since there are 9 calories for each gram of fat). You can also use this formula to calculate the maximum number of those fats that should be saturated fats.

For example, if you’re eating a 2,000 calorie diet, you’ll want to stay between 56 to 72 grams of fat, and less than 12 to 14 grams of saturated fat. If you’re on a reduced-calorie diet of 1,500 a day, the math works out for 42 to 58 grams of fat and only 9 to 10 grams of saturated fat. Try the formula out for yourself and let us know in the comments if you have trouble!

How Much Fat Should You Eat to Gain Muscle?

Carbs and fat aren’t exactly required to gain muscle – that’s protein’s job. But, your body does need at least 15-percent of your diet to come from fat in order to produce testosterone. The hormone, testosterone, is one of the best ways to naturally build muscle, and it’s not just for men, either. In addition to building muscle, women also need small amounts of testosterone to keep mood and energy levels up.

Most of the advice we’ve offered in this article may not apply if you’re a serious athlete or you work out intensely five times a week. In that case, you may not be in weight-loss mode and are probably not restricting your calories. Chances are good that you’re eating more than 2,000 calories! If you’re looking to build muscle instead of lose weight, we would suggest you eat no more than 25-percent fat calculated on a 2,000 calorie diet. The extra fat won’t help you build muscle, so there’s no sense going there.

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Chef Lindsay

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary School, Lindsay worked as the executive chef of a farm-to-table restaurant in Bend, Oregon. She is passionate about using local, organic ingredients and loves teaching home cooks how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to create beautiful meals for her family. She lives with her husband in Colorado, where she enjoys the trials and errors of gardening.

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