People are confused about fats, and it’s pretty understandable on some level. After all, a few years ago, they were seen as the worst thing ever, and now we’re told that fats are an important part of a healthy diet.
Sure, if you eat a lot of high-fat foods all the time, you’re probably going to see the number creep up on the scale. But if you watch your fat intake, you should be just fine. “Because fat has nine calories per gram (compared to four calories per gram of protein or fat), it’s true that a little goes a long way,” says says New York-based R.D. Jessica Cording. “To prevent weight gain, make sure you’re consuming it in an amount that fits within the context of your daily calorie needs.” According to the USDA, you should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. In general, experts say you should aim to get about 20 percent of your calories per day from healthy fats.
Nope—you need adequate amounts of dietary fat to support normal brain and body functions, says Cording. Among other things, your body needs fats for hormone production, cell signaling, and body temperature regulation. They’re also key for supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails, Cording says.
Like carbs, there are high-quality fats and low quality fats, says Julie Upton, R.D., and co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health. “Low-quality fats, just like low-quality carbs, are not beneficial for your health,” she says, calling out saturated fats, which typically show up in processed foods. According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, foods with good fats include foods like salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds while the not-so-good fats can be found in things like butter, beef fats, or any partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
While saturated fats are linked to an increase in cholesterol, other types of fat, like poly-unsaturated fatty acids—found in sunflowers, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, salmon, tuna, and walnuts—have shown to significantly decrease cholesterol levels, says Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.
Fat tends to be lumped together, but there are actually several different types. “They are very different,” says Upton. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy and are burned readily by the body, while saturated fats and trans fats are more easily stored as body fat, she explains. Saturated fats “are found in the greatest amounts in coconut and palm kernel oils, in butter and beef fats,” according to the USDA. They can also be found in pork and chicken fats. Meanwhile, trans fats are “found primarily in partially hydrogenated-vegetable oils” in processed foods and in animal fats, the USDA says.