Learning About Dietary Fat in Food

close up bottle of oil

Why do we need fat?

  • Dietary fat is important for the healthy growth and development of young children.
  • Dietary fat is needed to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.
  • Dietary fat also provides essential fatty acids that the body needs for heart health, to make hormones and to build healthy cells and skin.

How much and what type of fats should you eat?

The total amount of fat you require depends on facts such as age, gender and activity levels.

The recommended daily percentage of total calories from fat should be:

  • 30-40% for ages 1-3
  • 25-35% for ages 4-18 years
  • 20-35% for ages 19 years and over

To learn more about the different types of fat, see the table below:   

Different types of fat

Type of Fat

Food Sources

What should I know about it?

Monounsaturated Fat

Olive and canola oil, some soft non-hydrogenated margarines, avocados and nuts; almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews.

Monounsaturated fat helps lower blood cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated Fat

There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6.

Polyunsaturated fats also help lower blood cholesterol

Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring and sardines and oils and margarine made from plant sources including canola, linseed and soybeans. It is also found in omega-3 enriched eggs and milk products.

Omega-6 fats are found in safflower, sunflower and corn oils, in some soft non-hydrogenated margarines and nuts and seeds such as almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.

Omega-3 fats help prevent stickiness and clotting of blood. Many studies have shown that eating higher fat fish helps lower risk of heart diseases.

Aim for at least 2 Canada’s Food Guide servings of omega-3 fatty fish such as  salmon, mackerel, herring every week

Saturated fat

Found in foods from animals, such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin, lard and higher fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Also found in some vegetable oils, including coconut and palm kernel oils.

Some saturated fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

Trans fat

Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, which changes liquid oil to hard fat like shortening. See food examples below.

In addition to raising 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol, trans fat also reduces the blood levels of the 'good' cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol). HDL-cholesterol protects against heart disease.

Source: EatRight Ontario external link

What types of fats should you avoid?

Try to avoid these saturated and trans fats since they can increase your risk of heart disease: 

  • hydrogenated margarines (especially hard margarines)
  • fried foods
  • bakery products that are made with shortening, margarine, or partially hydrogenated oil – such as crackers, cookies, donuts, muffins, and French fries

How can I make better choices?

At the grocery store

  • Read nutrition labels when choosing products to limit saturated and trans fats.
  • Choose lower-fat milk products more often. This means a milk-fat (MF) of less than 2% for milk, cottage cheese and yogurt. Cheese is considered lower fat if it contains less than 20% MF.
  • Select lean or lower-fat meat and alternatives made with little or no added fat or salt (sodium).

At home

  • When cooking, grill, broil, bake, roast, stir-fry, poach and steam your food.
  • Go easy on spreads, sauces and dressings. Try low-fat alternatives like chutney or salsa on sandwiches, or flavoured vinegar on salads.
  • Use soft margarine instead of hard margarine, butter or lard in baking.
  • Trim visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Use more herbs and spices to season your food.

Eating out

  • Choose foods that are:
  • grilled, baked, broiled, poached, au jus, steamed or dry-sautéed
  • prepared with broth or tomato sauce instead of cream
  • flavoured with fresh herbs, rather than fats such as oil and butter
  • Ask for dressings/sauces on the side.
  • Share a large portion or take half the meal home for the next day.

See the table below for other simple ways to cut dietary fat.

Ways to cut dietary fat

Food Group

By choosing…

Instead of…

You save…

Grain Products

1 cup of pasta with tomato and meat sauce

1 cup of homemade Alfredo fettuccine

9 grams of fat

1 slice whole wheat toast with 1 tsp trans fat free soft margarine

1 store-bought muffin or donut

7 grams of fat

1 baked potato with 1 tsp trans fat free soft margarine

30 French fries

12 grams of fat

Vegetables and Fruit

1 cup steamed green beans

1 cup asparagus with Hollandaise sauce

5 grams of fat

1 baked potato with 1 tsp trans fat free soft margarine

30 French fries

12 grams of fat

Milk and Alternatives

Low-fat cheddar, 7% MF (4 slices, 5 cm x 2 cm x 0.5 cm)

Regular fat cheddar (4 slices, 5 cm x 2 cm x 0.5 cm)

13 grams of fat*

½ cup frozen yogurt

½ cup ice cream

9 grams of fat

Meat and Alternatives

Sirloin steak, trimmed (100 grams of size of a deck of cards)

Sirloin steak, untrimmed (100 grams of size of a deck of cards)

5 grams of fat

Chicken breast without skin (100 grams or size of a deck of cards)

Chicken breast with skin (100 grams or size of a deck of cards)

7 grams of fat

Other Foods

Pretzels (10 twists)

Potato chips (15 chips)

9 grams of fat

Source: A Matter of Fat, Beef Information Centre external link
*Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods


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