Telling the average Joe to limit their saturated fat to 10% of their total calories is like being blindfolded and sent to the grocery store to pick up dinner. Some of the purchases might actually be worthy of dinner, but those boxes, cans and bottles are all going to feel the same. Wouldn’t a little more insight be helpful? How can the average person make any sense of such vague recommendations without having a good grasp of nutrition?
The Dietary Guidelines is mandated under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act which states that every 5 years the US Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services get together to set nutritional guidelines and recommendations for the general public. We’ve got to live with this ambiguity for another 5 years so let me make some sense of it.
The 2015-2020 guidelines recommend that no more than 10% of those daily calories come from saturated fat. Keep in mind that almost all foods are a combination of unhealthy saturated fat and the healthier unsaturated fat. And many foods have the double-whammy transfat that not only clogs arteries, but undermines the heart protective HDL that part of the lipid profile.
The total fat grams on a nutritional label are a compilation of saturated fat, transfat and unsaturated fat. Some labels might only have saturated fat and transfat (which they are required to put on) listed. Other labels might have both of those and also have the unsaturated fat broken down into mono- and polyunsaturated fat, which are both the good heart-healthy fats. We need fat in our diet for many body functions and absorption of some vitamins, but fat comes with a caveat. Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram – 9 cal- compared to carbohydrates and proteins which both only have 4 calories per gram. And we want to put the emphasis on the good fat so we don’t clog up our arteries.
Determining Your Saturated Fat Calories
First you need to have an idea how many calories you need to maintain your weight. There are a lot of factors that determine someone’s caloric needs but the Mayoclinic has a nice and easy calorie calculator that takes activity level into consideration. A 50 year-old woman 5′ 6″ tal.l weighing 170 pounds and who is inactive needs to 1750 calories to maintain her weight. If she is getting about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily that goes up to 2100 calories. If you take 10% of those calories if she is sedentary, it’s recommended that she consume no more than 175 calories a day of saturated fat.
Making 10% User Friendly
As mentioned earlier there are 9 calories per gram of fat. If you divide 175 by 9 you get about 20 gm of saturated fat per day. So what does that look like? Well, taking a look around my kitchen I found a 4 square Godiva chocolate bar (I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day) with 7 gms of saturated fat. I found an 85% lean ground beef patty with 7 gms of fat. A 10 oz ribeye has 28 gms of saturated fat. A half cup serving of Eddies slow churned ice cream contains 2 gms of saturated fat. An ounce of Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese has 6 gms in one ounce. An egg has 2 gms. A tablespoon of butter has 7 gms, but that same amount of whipped butter has 3.5 gms. One quarter cup of walnuts has 2 gms. A slice of cooked bacon has 1.5 gms. A cup of whole milk has 5 gms, but a cup of 1% milk has 1/5 gm. So my Sunday breakfast splurge ( I’m not perfect but I do bank and plan for my splurges) of 2 pieces of whole grain toast with 2 tsp of whipped butter, 3 slices of bacon and 2 eggs had 11 gms of saturated fat. I’m guessing a steak with baked potato and butter, and a few squares of Godiva chocolate would put that over that 20 gms.
Make Informed Choices
You can either calculate your saturated fats to really know what you are choosing or you can make wiser substitutions. Shifting away from cheese and towards humus, shifting to low-fat dairy, eating more poultry and fish and less red meat and being mindful of portions of things like chocolate and baked goodies will keep your heart pumping and your arteries unclogged, now that’s a nice payback.