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Fat and Calories

Armen Hareyan's picture

What's the difference between fat and calories?

Fat is one of six nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. The other five nutrients are:

  • Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, grains and peas, beans and other legumes)
  • Proteins (found in meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs and beans)
  • Minerals (such as potassium, calcium and iron)
  • Vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E and K)
  • Water

A calorie is a measurement, just like a teaspoon or an inch. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as fat. Even a fat-free food can have a lot of calories and can be stored as fat.

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) often have fewer vitamins and minerals than low-fat foods. (Note: Protein sources, especially red meat and dairy products, often 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?

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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 eating less fat and calories and exercising. 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 American Heart Association recommends limiting total calories from fat to less than 30 percent. That's about 65 grams of fat or less a 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 and calorie listings for individual foods can be found in nutrition books at your local library and on food packages.
  • Read nutrition labels on food packages. Nutrition labels show the number of grams of fat per serving. They also show the daily percentage of fat provided in each serving. In other words, if the daily percentage of fat per serving is 18%, each serving provides 18% of the the total fat you should eat for the day. Choose a brand that has a lower fat percentage. (The daily percentage value is based on a number of calories listed on the nutrition label, usually 2,000. Your calorie needs may be higher or lower.)

How many grams of fat should I eat each day?

If you eat this
many calories daily:

Eat no more than
this many fat grams daily