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You Ask, I Answer: Saturated Fat

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:01pm

So is 30 to 35 percent total fat from calories a moderate-fat diet and above 35 percent a high-fat diet?

How much fat, as a percentage of total calories, do you think is safe to consume?

What do you see as the safe upper limit for total fat intake?

How much saturated fat can one consume with out risking clogged arteries?

– David Brown
Kalispell, MT

Since we are talking about ranges, there is room for fluidity.

Here is how I break it down.

Anything below 15 percent of total calories from fat falls under the “very low fat” category.

I classify the range between 15 and 30 percent of total calories from fat as “low-fat” (with, say, 16 percent being closer to “very low in fat” and 29 being very close to “moderate”).

The 30 – 40 range is “moderate”, and anything above 40 is “high”.

What makes your question much more complex, though, is that fat is by no means a simple nutrient.

I can not simply throw out a figure and say, “Consume 35 percent of calories from fat” without giving additional detail.

For example, make most of those fats mono and polyunsaturated, aim for an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio no higher than 5:1, and avoid artificial trans fats (some animal meats naturally contain trans fats, which I am not worried about).

If someone’s “35 percent of total calories from fat” is mainly comprised of trans fats, I would certainly not describe it as healthy intake.

That same percentage consisting of mainly mono and polyunsaturated fats, however, would get two thumbs up.

This shouldn’t come as a big shock to regular readers of this blog.

Besides, does anybody seriously think four strips of bacon or a quarter cup of half and half are healthier than a grilled wild salmon steak or half an avocado?

As for your safe upper limit question: you won’t find a technical “Upper Limit” (how much of a nutrient it takes to have detrimental, rather than beneficial, health effects) for saturated fat.

However, the 10 percent figure (which, as I will explain a little later in more detail, basically recommends that people consume no more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat) serves as an Upper Limit.

Thereby, intakes of, say, 40 percent have not shown to be beneficial to health.

One main problem with mainstream talk about nutrition is that it oversimplifies nutrients, especially fats and carbohydrates.

After all, a carb is not a carb is not a carb. Oatmeal, bananas, and baked potatoes are very different from donuts and Jolly Ranchers.

The first three provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The last two are virtually empty calories.

This is why I strongly oppose blanket statements like, “carbs are bad.” Really?

You mean to tell me that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are no different than a cupcake?

It is also important to place nutrients in the right context.

Sports nutritionists and exercise physiologists agree, based on evidence-based research, that easily digestible carbohydrates that would normally not be outright recommended as highly nutritious (ie: white rice) can serve an important purpose after a strenuous workout.

Forego carbs after a very intense, long workout and glycogen stores are not fully restored. This is problematic, as it may result in the breakdown of muscle.

As for how much saturated fat someone can consume without risking clogged arteries, you have to, once again, frame it in the appropriate context.

I stand by the “make no more than ten percent of your total calories saturated fat” rule, but keep in mind this is over a period of time.

Let’s assume you eat 2,500 calories a day.

Ten percent of 2500 calories = 250 calories.

Divide 250 calories by 9 (the amount of calories per gram of fat) and you get 27.7.

So, you should get no more than 28 grams of saturated fat a day.

Does this mean that downing 40 grams at a birthday dinner is going to send you into coronary hell? Not at all.

What matters, as I always like to mention, are general patterns.

If you generally stay within that 10 percent figure, your risk is lowered.

If, however, the norm is 30 percent (in this case, 83 grams of saturated fat a day) for five, ten, or fifteen years, you will very likely run into problems.

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5 CommentsYou Ask/I Answer, calories, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, minerals, monounsaturated fat, omega-6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fat, trans fat, vitamins

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