Fat is an essential nutrient for proper body function --- but while it is necessary, you should limit your intake to realize the fullest health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends a specific intake and provides guidelines on the types of fats you should consume. Fat provides an excellent source of energy, but too much can increase your risk of chronic disease.
The recommended fat intake from the American Heart Association falls in line with that suggested in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Your fat consumption should be between 20 to 35 percent of your total caloric intake. That means if you are consuming 2,000 calories a day, a healthy fat intake will be 400 to 700 calories. This range equals 44 to 78 grams, as 1 g of fat equals 9 calories. You can also use an online resource, such as the University of Maryland Medical Center's Fat Intake Calculator, to determine your recommended intake based on your body size.
Types of Fat
As important as the amount of fat you consume is the type of fat. The American Heart Association recommends that your diet focus primarily on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; sources include olive and canola oils, avocados, almonds, walnuts and peanut butter. Likewise, there are certain fats of which you should limit your consumption. You should consume no more than 1 percent of your total daily calories from trans fat. Fried foods and baked goods, for example, may contain unhealthy amounts of trans fats.
Saturated fats are another type of fat you should limit in your diet. Like trans fats, saturated fats can increase your levels of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. As this cholesterol increases, so too does your risk for developing atherosclerosis, a major risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association advises that your saturated fat consumption not exceed 7 percent of your total caloric intake. Saturated fats include butter, shortening and lard.
Controlling your fat intake can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, the top cause of death in the United States as of 2007. By choosing healthier fats, you can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis and cut down other risk factors. Study results published in 2011 in the journal "Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases" showed that a diet that included virgin olive oil, walnuts and almonds reduced cholesterol 7 to 13 percent in participants. Levels of LDL cholesterol also fell, providing further evidence of the benefits of consuming healthy fat.