Total Fat

Fat is one of three macronutrients in food that provide calories, or “energy,” for the body. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories.

What It Is

Fat is found in foods from both plants and animals. There are two types of fat:
  • Saturated fat is found in higher proportions in animal products and is usually solid at room temperature.
  • Unsaturated fat
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in higher proportions in plants and are usually liquid at room temperature.
  • Trans fat is an unsaturated fat found primarily in partially hydrogenated oils (and foods containing these oils) and in small amounts in some animal products. Trans fat is structurally different from unsaturated fat that occurs naturally in plant foods and has detrimental health effects.

Where It Is Found

Saturated and trans fats are found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Beef fat (tallow and suet), chicken fat, and pork fat (lard)
  • Coffee creamer, cream, and milk (whole and 2% milk)
  • Dairy products (such butter and regular/full-fat cheese, cream cheese, and ice cream)
  • Desserts and sweets (such as cakes, chocolate candies, cookies, and ice cream)
  • Fast food
  • Frozen pizza
  • Meats and poultry
  • Nuts
  • Processed meats and poultry products (such as bacon, hot dogs, jerky, luncheon meats, and sausages)
  • Ready-to-use frostings
  • Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
  • Savory snacks (such as chips, crackers, and microwave popcorn)
  • Tropical plant oils (such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils)
  • Vegetable shortening and stick margarine
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Avocados
  • Fish (such as such as herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and tuna)
  • Mayonnaise and oil-based salad dressings
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olives
  • Soft margarines (liquid, tub, and spray)
  • Vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, and soybean oils)

What It Does

  • Fat provides calories, or “energy,” for the body. Fat also stores energy in excess of what the body needs immediately, and serves as a secondary energy source once calories from carbohydrates are used up. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories.
  • Fat is a basic part of cell membranes and is necessary for proper growth and development.
  • Fat helps the body absorb important fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K).
  • Fat supports key body processes, such as blood clotting, nervous system function, reproduction, and immune response.
  • Fat “cushions” internal organs and protects them from being damaged. The fat layer below the skin also insulates the body from heat loss.
  • Fat plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair.
  • Fat in food provides taste and consistency and helps you feel full.

Health Facts

  • Dietary fat has more than twice the calories per gram as either carbohydrate or protein, so calories from fat can add up quickly.
  • Saturated and trans fats can raise the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in the blood – which, in turn, can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fat by replacing it with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The guidelines also recommend keeping the intake of trans fat as low as possible by limiting foods containing partially hydrogenated oils (a source of artificial trans fat).
  • To reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, while maintaining adequate intake of important nutrients, follow these ranges for total fat intake:
  • Adults (ages 19 years and older): 20-35% of calories from fat
  • Older children and adolescents (ages 4 to 18 years): 25-35% of calories from fat
  • Young children (ages 1 to 3 years): 30-40% of calories from fat

Action Steps For Monitoring Total Fat in Your Diet

Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for monitoring consumption of total fat. The Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods and beverages shows the amount in grams (g) and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of total fat in one serving of the food.

The Nutrition Facts Label also lists the types of fat that make up the total fat in a product. This includes the amount in grams (g) per serving of saturated fat and trans fat and the %DV of saturated fat. Food manufacturers may also voluntarily list the amount in grams (g) per serving of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
The Daily Value for total fat is 65 g per day. This is based on a 2,000 calorie diet — your Daily Value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  • When comparing foods, look at the %DV of total fat. And remember:
    • 5% DV or less of total fat per serving is low
    • 20% DV or more of total fat per serving is high
  • Look for sources of saturated fat and trans fat on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples of ingredients that contain these fats are: beef fat (tallow or suet), butter, chicken fat, cream, partially hydrogenated oil, pork fat (lard), shortening, and tropical oils (such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil).
    Tip: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight — the closer an ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.
  • Choose lean cuts of meats and poultry. Trim or drain fat from meats before or after cooking and remove poultry skin before cooking or eating.
  • Try seafood and plant sources of protein (such as soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds) in place of some meats and poultry.
  • Substitute fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) dairy products (such as cheese, milk, and yogurt ) or fortified soy beverages for regular/full-fat (whole) dairy products.
  • Cook and bake with liquid oils (such as canola and olive oil) instead of solid fats (such as butter, lard, and shortening).
  • Try baking, broiling, grilling, and steaming. These cooking methods do not add extra fat.
  • Limit desserts, savory snacks, and sweets (such as cakes, chips, chocolate candies, cookies, crackers, ice cream, and microwave popcorn).
  • When eating out, ask which fats are being used to prepare your meal. You can also request to see nutrition information, which is available in many chain restaurants.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 package (272g)
Amount Per Serving
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
  Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
  Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
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