Essential Guide to Fat

by MyFitnessPal
Share it:
Essential Guide to Fat

Are you afraid of fat? Don’t be. In addition to making food taste good, fat plays an important role in a healthy, balanced diet. Here we cover the basics about fat and how it affects health goals.


At 9 calories per gram, fat is the most calorie-dense of the macronutrients (carbs and protein each have 4 grams). This makes sense, since one of the biggest roles of fat is energy storage. Dietary fat is digested into small chains of fatty acids. The fatty acid chains are picked up by intestinal cells, reassembled and packaged into vessels called chylomicrons, which are sent to muscle or fat tissue. Once the chylomicrons arrive, fatty acids are again released to be taken up by muscle and fat cells. If you need energy right away — say you take a walk after dinner — they’ll be used to meet those demands. If you go right to bed, they’ll be stored in fat tissue until they’re needed.

Not surprisingly, significant fat breakdown occurs when your body runs on a calorie deficit. In a healthy adult, calorie deficits occur mainly by restricting calories consumed or by undergoing a tough workout. When this happens, your body taps into its own fat stores, breaking them down for energy through a process called “beta oxidation.” This process requires glucose, which can come from carbohydrates or protein, and is most efficient when you’re mildly restricting calories.

Not only does the body burn fat during calorie deficits, but it also burns fat during normal day-to-day activities. Fat is the primary source of fuel when you engage in low-intensity movements — from sitting in front of the computer to walking the dog. The body does this so it can spare glucose (the good stuff!) for your brain and red blood cells.


Fat is crucial for life — so much so that our bodies figured out a way to make fat even if we eat almost no fat at all. Excess carbs and protein can both be converted into fat and stored as energy. Fat also helps our bodies function correctly in several ways:


A healthy amount of fat is protective. It plays a protective role for cells because it’s an important component of every cell’s membrane or “wall” that protects against invaders. It also protects your organs by cushioning them from the impact of everyday living. You also need certain fats to build and maintain a healthy brain, which is about 60% fat in composition.


For day-to-day activities — from sitting in front of your computer to walking the dog — fat is the main fuel our bodies burn for energy. Generally, during activity where your heart rate is less than 70% of its maximal rate, fat serves as your body’s primary source of fuel.

Not surprisingly, significant fat breakdown occurs when your body runs on a calorie deficit. When you take in fewer calories than you burn, your body taps into its fat stores, breaking them down for energy through a process called “beta oxidation.” This process requires glucose and is most efficient when you’re mildly restricting calories.


Fat aids the release of CCK, a hormone that helps you feel satiated after a meal. Pairing high-fat foods with high-carb foods helps prevent a rapid spike in blood sugar because fat slows digestion and the rate at which sugars from carbs enter the bloodstream.


Fat is found in a wide variety of foods — either naturally occurring or added fat during processing and cooking. Naturally occurring fats tend to be found in dairy, meat and fish, nuts and seeds, oil and fatty fruits (Think: olive oil and avocado). Added fats tend to be found in processed and packaged goods. Not all fats are created equal when it comes to health.

Here’s a brief run-down of the common fats found in food:


Solid at room temperature, saturated fat mostly comes from animal sources like meat, particularly red meat, and dairy. Certain plants and their oil are high in saturated fat, such as coconut and palm. Virtually all major health organizations advise us to eat less saturated fat since it raises LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. This is why the MyFitnessPal app sets your saturated fat limit at less than 10% of total calories.


Most trans fat found in food are synthetically made by taking liquid unsaturated fat and blasting it with hydrogen so it resembles solid saturated fat. This makes foods more shelf stable, easier to cook with and allows manufacturers to replace saturated fat in their products. However evidence has revealed trans fats are one of the worst things for your heart. Not only do trans fat increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, but they also decrease HDL (good) cholesterol. The MyFitnessPal app sets your trans fat goal at 0 grams per day.


These fats are what we think of when we say “healthy” fats because they don’t carry the same risk for heart disease as saturated and trans fat. Generally, MUFA and PUFA are found in high-fat, plant-based foods such as avocado, nuts, seeds, olives and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.


While they’re technically polyunsaturated fats, the omegas deserve a separate call-out since our bodies cannot produce them and we must get these from the foods we eat. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fats play important roles in regulating our immune systems. Omega-3 fat plays an essential role in developing our vision and nervous systems. Adequate intake for adults ranges from 12–17 grams per day for omega-6 fats and 1.1–1.6 grams per day for omega-3 fats. We easily get enough omega-6 fats from the foods we eat because soybean, safflower and corn oil are abundant in our food supply. Omega-3 fats are harder to come by since they’re mostly found in fatty fish; this is partly why we’re advised to eat more seafood by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests that fat makes up 20–35% of total calories, but you can certainly eat more or less depending on your goals. The MyFitnessPal app automatically allots 30% of calories to fat — of course, you can tailor this to meet your needs.

To determine your fat needs in grams:

  1. Decide what percentage of your calories you want to come from fat. Choose a 20%, 25%, 30% or 35% fat diet. Convert this number into a decimal (for example, 30% is 0.3).
  2. Multiply your “Total Calorie Goal” (your calorie goal given by the MyFitnessPal app) by the decimal value. This gives you the number of calories from fat.
  3. Divide the number of calories from fat by 9 to get the grams of fat.

Does this match your fat goal in the app? Adjust it if needed.



Meat and dairy certainly have a role in any balanced diet, but they shouldn’t make up the majority of your intake since they have saturated fat. Enjoy them in moderation along with plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruit.


Eating fats along with foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins and minerals allows your body to better absorb them. A good example: Use high-fat salad dressing to maximize your absorption of the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables in your salad.


Most of the fat in our diets supplies us with plenty of omega-6 fats, but we should be getting a better balance between omega-6 and omega-3. Both fats play a role in keeping inflammation in check, so it’s important we get a good ratio of the two.


Different cooking oils provide varying amounts of saturated fat, MUFA and PUFA, plus they impart different flavors and aroma to your food. To get the maximum benefit in a budget-savvy way, purchase olive oil (for low-heat cooking) and canola oil (for high-heat cooking). Olive oil provides valuable MUFA and omega-6 fats, but canola also has a decent amount of omega-3 fats.


Focus your diet on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as those listed below:


The nutrition field has recovered from its fat-phobia of the ‘90s. Just in case any of those old beliefs are lurking in your mind, we want to be extremely clear.


Your body stores fat mainly from excess calories. If a calorie excess is available, even if those calories are from carbs or protein, your body is fully capable of turning them into fat for storage.


Your body burns a combination of carbs, fat and protein. Fat is the fuel of choice at rest and during low-intensity exercise (e.g. exercising at less than 70% maximal heart rate). Your body’s fuel of choice shifts to carbs when you exercise harder — at a moderately intense pace and beyond.


Contrary to what the label might tell you, low-fat and nonfat versions of foods tend to contain more fillers and additives to make up for missing flavor. A common additive is, unsurprisingly, sugar (or any one of its 44 cousins).


> Protein
> Macros

About the Author


MyFitnessPal provides powerful tools that make it easier for anyone to live a healthier life by tracking their meals and physical activity. Make healthy choices and visit the MyFitnessPal blog and download MyFitnessPal (if you haven’t already).


12 responses to “Essential Guide to Fat”

  1. Avatar Rick Judge says:

    you missed out all the fat soluble vitamins they contain

  2. Avatar Sarah Sanders says:

    The article was going alright until canola was recommended for an omega 3 option. Are you kidding? Do you know what canola oil is made from (genetically modified rapeseed, which is naturally poisonous to humans)? Have you read the research about what it does to our cells (essentially, breaks them apart!)? Canola oil is horrible! If you want a healthy oil, use avocado oil. Costco has large bottle of avocado oil for $10. It is safe for high heat cooking, has good fats that heal, nourishes the body, and has little to no taste. I love cooking with it! I also love cooking with ghee. Both are a much healthier alternative to canola oil.

    I think there’s also a typo on the last set of bullet points. It seems like it should say “Eating Fat Will NOT Make You Fat”.

    • Avatar Diane Schmitt says:

      I agree!

    • Avatar Mary Peterson says:

      That’s fine, but I’m allergic to Avocados. Did you know if you have a latex allergy, you may also be allergic to avocados, bananas, and kiwi? It is life threatening. I have to be very careful what foods are made with so I don’t end up in the hospital. So alternatives are preferred.

      • Avatar Sarah Daggett says:

        Yikes. That’s no good! Can you have coconut oil? If you have a more refined variety, it is safe for high temps and has no flavor. It’s MUCH healthier than canola, too.

    • Avatar victorromeo says:

      There’s nothing wrong with rapeseed oil – or Canola in North America. The myth that it’s poisonous was debunked years ago.

      • Avatar Sarah Daggett says:

        I would challenge you to check back on that. Recent research is showing that, on a cellular level, they are very harmful and unhealthy fats. It’s not a myth.

        • Avatar victorromeo says:

          It’s a ridiculous and scurrilous myth. Usually spread by holistic health frauds. You belive whatever you want. You’re free to do so. But Canola – or Rapeseed oil – is perfectly safe. I buy pressed. It’s lovely.

  3. Avatar robbietek says:

    Pretty good but there are some things that don’t make sense.
    Sugar is the easy form of energy for are our bodies to use but by far not the
    best. Our bodies like keystones much better and burn more efficiently then
    sugar. In intense work outs you can deplete you glucos stores what then. You can
    store about 2500 calories of glucose in you mussel tissues however you can
    store 40000 calories of fat in your muscles. When you do an intense workout you
    will likely deplete the rest of those 2500 calories of glucose and if your body
    has not set up the metabolic system to be able to use fat effectively then you
    will not feel good after that type of intense work some may but not many. You
    should feel good after that type of workout.

    The amount of fat you suggest if not enough for healthy weight loss are a
    healthy person you must increase your fat intake and reduce your carb intake. In
    the case of a diabetic person this is a must because they cannot lose weight if
    the sugar is too high and the ADA diet is only formulated to work with their
    meds but it will not help them lose weight.

    Remember this Fat does not make you fat and carbs do. If you don’t believe me
    then do some research on the metabolic system that causes fat to be stored and
    it does not come from fat but from sugar and carbs.

    Calories in and Calories is not true, yes fat has 9 calories per gram as
    apposed 4 calories per grams of carbs. But the way your body uses the fat
    calories is much different than the way it uses carbs. So really restricting
    calories will not help you lose weight but restricting calories from carbs

    Carbs are not needed for life if this were true than starvation would be a
    short thing, but it is not. Your body will use every bit of fat to keep you
    alive down to about 4% body fat then it will start on muscle tissue and only

    The suggestion for using Canola oil is probably the worst part of the
    article followed by saturated fat is bad for you. Studies show that saturated
    do not cause heart problems.

    I eat a high fat moderate protein low carb diet. It blows me
    away that this type of diet works but it makes sense after all the years of the
    fat scare with was born of bad science which cause the US to blow up with many
    fat people. On this diet I have lost 25 pounds in 5 mounts my joint pain is almost completely gone. I am more awake and have more energy than when I was 30 years old. My wife 37 pounds of weight loss and she is diabetic. Her fasting blood sugar is now under 90 in the morning and has not been over 110 any other time for last three mounts. She is down to one pill of metformin and her doctor said that if she continues she will not have to take any. My daughter down close to 40 pounds of weight loss.

    Some people will say this is unhealthy but if done right it is healthier than any other diet. The article is good and heading in the right direction but still this is not the best way to eat.
    If anyone has any question, please reply. I have nothing to sell and want anything in return.

  4. Thanks for sharing a valuable post. As many of the people unaware from the fat. They didn’t know that how much it intake to stay fit. Your post really helps people to understand what amount of fat is essential for our body and how can anyone manages their foods to fat free.

  5. Testing the comments

  6. Avatar Tatsiana says:

    New comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.

You’re taking control of your fitness and wellness journey, so take control of your data, too. Learn more about your rights and options. Or click here to opt-out of certain cookies.