If you're watching your fat intake, it's a smart idea to learn which foods are heaviest in this high-calorie nutrient. But while there's nothing wrong with limiting fats in your diet, you shouldn't shun them altogether. Your body needs fat for numerous important functions, including absorption of certain nutrients. For optimal health, choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats and get 20 to 35 percent of your total calories from fat each day -- that's 44 to 78 grams of fat in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Some processed foods are concentrated fats and get 100 percent of their calories from this nutrient. These include oils, shortening and lard. Butter also gets virtually all of its calories from fat, although it contains a trace amount of protein, as well. Generally, these foods may contain about 12 to 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. Adding any of them to recipes may greatly increase the fat content. For example, while a large potato contains less than 1 gram of fat, a medium-sized order of french fries from a fast-food restaurant -- typically deep-fried in oil -- may contain about 18 grams of fat. Similarly, pie crusts are often high in fat because they're made with butter or shortening.
Unless they've been trimmed or otherwise had fat removed, most animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs are high in fat. These include cream, full-fat cheese, bacon, marbled steak, ribs, skin-on chicken and processed meats such as hot dogs and cold cuts. Choosing lean versions of these foods can significantly reduce the fat content. For example, 1 cup of whole milk contains nearly 8 grams of fat, while the same serving of 1-percent fat milk contains slightly more than 2 grams of fat.
High-Fat Plant Foods
While fruits, vegetables, beans and other plant foods are generally very low in fat, nuts and seeds are not. At more than 25 grams of fat per quarter-cup, macadamia nuts are among the fattiest foods in this group. Pine nuts and sesame seeds each contain about 23 grams of fat per quarter-cup; these are followed by pecans, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds in order of highest fat content first. Nut butters, such as peanut butter, are also high in fat, as are a few fruits, including avocados and olives.
All Fats Are Not Equal
While animal foods are generally high in saturated fat, plant foods are typically rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol levels -- which may lead to heart disease --- while unsaturated fats are linked to low cholesterol levels. Limit animal fats, and choose plant fats whenever possible. Because fat contains 9 calories per gram -- while protein and carbohydrates each contain just 4 calories per gram -- you should still eat these items in small doses. For example, use just a teaspoon of canola oil for a stir-fry, or a light drizzle of olive oil on your salad.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Butter, Salted
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Oil, Olive
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Lard
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Shortening, Household
- National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute: Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Milk, Whole
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Milk, Lowfat, Fluid, 1% Milkfat
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nutrient Lists
- The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: Fats and Cholesterol in the Diet