Why 30 percent?

No one can say exactly what a healthful fat intake is for a given individual, let alone for everyone. A majority of public health experts have supported the 30-percent guideline because they felt it was lower than what Americans are currently consuming, but not so low as to discourage compliance. Some scientists have proposed that we should strive for fat intakes closer to 25 or even 20 percent of daily caloric intake. Such levels would require greater changes in dietary habits for most Americans. Individuals who are not afraid of changing their eating habits, and are at risk for obesity, heart disease, or breast or colon cancer are often interested in using the 20- percent recommendation for their “fat allowances.” The 20-percent recommendation translates into 40 grams of fat for a daily intake of 1,800 calories and 44 grams for 2,000 calories.

What kind of fat?

Scientists do not understand all of the reasons why different types of fat behave differently in the body, so they are reluctant to give precise recommendations regarding each type of fat. But they do know that saturated fats –the kind found in animal products such as cream, cheese, eggs and meats, and in tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil — are the most harmful. People reducing their fat intakes are advised to cut sources of saturated fats first.

How low can you go?

The wording “30 percent or less” implies that there is no lower limit to a healthful fat intake. Some well-meaning fanatics get carried away and strive for a zero-percent fat diet, in the process eliminating many other important nutrients from their diet as they avoid any food source that contains even a gram of fat.

While scientists cannot prescribe a fat level that is “too low,” 20 percent appears to be very low but still healthful. We do know that a varied diet is extremely important to good health, and a varied diet, even a carefully chosen one, will give you some fat. This is good, because some types of fatty acids are essential to good health, and must be obtained from the diet.

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