Fats are one of the important food groups that are included in your diet. Over the years, fats have got a bad name. Most nutritionists talk about reducing fats in your diet. However, all fats are not equal. There are so called good fats and bad fats. The good fats, also known as essential fatty acids perform a number of important functions in your body. So, you should not eliminate them completely from your diet. But, since fats contain a lot of calories, even good fats should not be consumed in excess. There are a number of factors that determine the optimum amount of fat that you should consume. These include age, sex, level of physical activities etc.
Before understanding the amount of good fats that you should include in your diet, it is necessary to know what they are. Broadly speaking, fats are of three types. The saturated fats and Trans fats are not good for the body. They clog up the arteries, leading to a host of cardiac conditions and also affect the kidneys. On the other hand, unsaturated fats perform a number of important functions in the body. There are two main types of unsaturated fats. These are omega 3 and omega 6.
Importance of fats in your diet
Unsaturated fats perform several important functions in your body. These are as follows:
- Omega 3 fatty acids are probably the best known of all unsaturated fats. They help in conditions like asthma, arthritis, attention disorder, osteoporosis, digestive disorders and certain types of cancers. These fats are found in Brazil nuts, green leafy vegetables, spirulina, wheat germ, certain fish, flaxseeds, mustard seeds etc.
- The other important type of unsaturated fat in your diet is omega 6 fatty acid. They produce linoleic acid which combines with the omega 3 fatty acids to produce the health benefits described above. You should eat twice the amount of omega 3
fatty acids. Though saturated fats are often cast as the villain, recent research shows that they too perform certain important functions in the body. These are as follows:
- Saturated fats lower the amount of lipoprotein, thereby guarding against heart diseases. There is no medication known to lower lipoprotein.
- A recent study by Mary Enig suggests that saturated fats can help in building and preserving your bone mass and protect them from degeneration with age.
- Saturated fats encourage the liver cells to shed their fat contents and improve liver function.
- This type of fats is critical for optimum functioning of your lungs. The airspace on the lungs is coated by lung surfactants which are completely made of saturated fats. If the body is forced to use other types of fats for this, it may lead to collapse of the air spaces causing respiratory distress.
- Saturated fats make up a large part of your brain along with cholesterol.
- Certain saturated fats serve important purpose in sending neural impulses which often trigger vital responses like the production of insulin.
- Finally, saturated fats play an important role in your immune system. It helps the white blood cells in your body to identify and fight and destroy the invaders in your bloodstream.
Thus it is seen that you require both saturated and unsaturated fats in your diet. The mistake that most people make is in the amount. A typical American tends to eat far more fat than the daily recommended amount and often these are Trans fats – the worst kinds which serve no healthy purpose. That is why it is necessary to know exactly how much fat you should incorporate in your daily diet so that you reap all the benefits without adding excess calories which can lead to obesity.
How many calories do you need and how much should come from fats?
The first thing that you need to remember is that 1 gram of fats yield 9 calories. So, you have to be careful in consuming fats when you are counting your calories.
The number of calories that you need depends on a number of factors. Your age, sex and level of physical activity are the most important determinants of the number of calories that you need daily. This can be calculated as follows:
- An inactive person is one with a sedentary lifestyle
- A moderately active person is an adult who does all the normal activities of life and is working.
- If you are engaged primarily in physical labor or are an athlete, you are highly active and your calorie intake needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Now, the calorie requirement can be calculated as follows:
- A moderately active male adult will require number of pounds of body weight multiplied by 15 calories to get the total calories for the day.
- A moderately active female adult will require number of pounds of body weight multiplied by 12 calories to get the total calories for the day.
- A relatively inactive male adult will require number of pounds of body weight multiplied by 13 calories to get the total calories for the day.
- A relatively inactive female adult will require number of pounds of body weight multiplied by 10 calories to get the total calories for the day.
- 30% of the total daily calories should come from fats.
- Once you get the number of calories from fat per day, divide it by 9 because 1 gram of fat gives 9 calories. The answer is the number of grams of fats that you can consume every day.
- Only 10% of this total fat consumption should be saturated fats while Trans fats should not exceed 1.5% to 2%. The rest should come from unsaturated fats.
- However, the above fact that 30% of total daily calories should come from fats is true for adults. In case of children aged 2 and 3, 30% to 40% of daily calories should come from fats. Similarly, the amount is also high for adolescents. They should derive a minimum of 25% to 35% of their daily calorie requirement from fats.
Counting fats in some special cases
Now that you know what the equation is between total calories consumed and total amount of fats consumed, here are some special cases that need to be considered separately:
- For people who are engaged in heavy physical labor, the total amount of calories required is high and accordingly, the proportion of fats is also higher in their diet. However, since they often need to develop strong muscles, it is recommended that they try to incorporate more proteins in their diet. Protein helps to build muscle mass and also helps the cells to recuperate after they have been subjected to wear and tear due to heavy physical activities. Hence, it is suggested that instead of increasing fats in the diet, it is the amount of lean protein that should be increased in the diet of those engaged in heavy physical labor.
- Children, especially infants should not be given reduced fat milk. They require good fats during this stage of their life. The extra calorie is used for growth.
- As the child enters adolescent years, he should limit his fat intake. There is often a higher need for energy due to growth of the body and engagement in different activities. It should be supplied from protein and carbs and less from fats. Teenagers also tend to consume more Trans fats – a major ingredient in fast foods.
- Young adults should restrict the amount of fat according to their calorie requirement as shown in the above calculation.
- Pregnant women, menopausal women and older adults should eat reduced fat foods. However, pregnant women should include some good fats in the diet as they are necessary for the fat soluble vitamins to work properly and aid in the growth of the baby.
In conclusion it must be mentioned that no fat – not even the good ones should be eaten in excess.