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Reducing Fat Intake

Why is it important to reduce fat intake?

Eating a high fat diet may contribute to heart disease. Eating too much fat also contributes to excess body weight, since a gram of fat has about twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. Being overweight may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (diseases of the heart and blood vessels) and certain forms of cancer.

Whether you are trying to lose weight, lower blood cholesterol levels or simply eat healthier, you'll want to limit total fat intake.

Why does fat get all of the attention?

Fat gets all of the attention for many good reasons. Consider these facts:

  • Fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. A high cholesterol level is a leading risk factor for heart disease.
  • Some fatty foods (such as bacon, sausage, and potato chips) have fewer vitamins and minerals than low-fat foods. (Note: Protein sources, especially red meat and dairy products, contain fat. Lean meat, fish, poultry without skin, beans, tofu, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, and tuna fish packed in water are good, low-fat sources of protein.)
  • Fat has about twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. A gram of fat has about 9 calories, while a gram of carbohydrate or protein has about 4 calories. In other words, you could eat twice as much carbohydrates or proteins as fat for the same amount of calories.

Will I lose weight if I eat low-fat foods?

It's true that a diet high in fat can lead to weight gain. But it takes more than just eating low-fat foods to lose weight. You must also watch how many calories you eat. Remember, extra calories, even from fat-free and low-fat foods, get stored in the body as fat. Many times, people replace high-fat foods for high-calorie foods, like sweets, and gain weight rather than lose weight.

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. You can achieve this goal by exercising and by eating less fat and calories. Exercise burns calories. Consult with your health care provider before starting an exercise or diet program.

How much fat should I eat?

A low-fat style of eating is important for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing heart disease. The dietary reference intake for fat in adults is 25 to 35 percent of total calories from fat. That's about 56 to 77 grams of fat or less per day if you eat 2,000 calories a day.

How can I know how much fat I am eating?

Learn about the foods you eat. Fat, calorie, and other nutrients in foods can be found listed on the label, in nutrition books at your local library or bookstore, or online at a nutrient analysis website (such as www.mypyramid.gov).

Where do I start?

  • Eat plenty of lower-fat plant-based foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). Limit meat to less than 6 ounces/day. Choose only fat-free dairy products.
  • Use beans and lentils as a low fat, cholesterol-free protein source at meals or snacks in place of animal protein.
  • Watch your calorie intake. Remember, "low fat" does not always mean "low calorie."
  • Increase your physical activity to improve heart health and lose excess body fat.

What are my goals?

  • Decrease the total amount of fat you eat to 25 to 35 percent or less of your total daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 56 to 77 grams of fat or less per day.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
  • Decrease saturated fat (animal fat, butter, coconut, and palm oils) to less than 10% of your total calories per day. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 22 grams of saturated fat or less per day.
Tips for reducing fat intake

When selecting foods:

  • Learn about the foods you eat by reading nutrition labels. Look for "low fat," "nonfat" and "reduced fat" claims on food packages. Focus on total fat, rather than on individual items. When selecting food, balance those with a higher fat amount against those with a lower fat amount to stay within your fat total or "budget" for the day.
  • Choose lean meats, fish and poultry. Limit these to less than 6 ounces per day. Other good low-fat sources of protein include dried beans and peas, tofu, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, and tuna fish packed in water.
  • Choose skim or 1% milk.
  • Enjoy low-fat cheeses (no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce) or nonfat cheeses or spreads.
  • Try low-fat or fat-free versions of your favorite margarine, salad dressing, cream cheese, and mayonnaise.

When preparing foods:

  • Trim all visible fat and remove the skin from poultry.
  • Refrigerate soups, gravies, and stews, and remove the hardened fat before eating.
  • Bake, broil, or grill meats on a rack that allows fat to drip from the meat. Avoid frying foods.
  • Sprinkle lemon juice and herbs/spices on cooked vegetables instead of using cheese, butter, or cream-based sauces.
  • Try plain, nonfat, or low-fat yogurt and chives on baked potatoes rather than sour cream. Reduced-fat sour cream still contains fat, so you must limit the amount you use.

When dining out:

  • Choose simply prepared foods such as broiled, roasted, baked fish or chicken. Avoid fried or sautéed foods, casseroles, and foods with heavy sauces and gravies.
  • Request that your food be cooked without added butter, margarine, gravy, or sauces.
  • Request salad with low-fat dressing on the side.
  • Select fruit, angel food cake, nonfat frozen yogurt, sherbet, or sorbet for dessert instead of ice cream, cake, or pie.

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Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/19/2009...#11208