Can You Eat Too Much Healthy Fat?
Plus, the athletes that need more than others.
One of the reasons the Mediterranean diet gets so much (worthy) praise is because of its emphasis on healthy fats. There are undeniable benefits to consuming them—from reducing your risk of heart disease to helping regulate blood sugar levels and maintaining weight.
As the popularity of this eating mentality has grown, however, food marketers are urging the fit set to up their intake of omega 3 and unsaturated fats with wild abandon. Health-conscious eaters are tossing chia seeds into smoothies, ordering the salmon in lieu of chicken, and sprinkling a handful of nuts over everything. But, you may want to think twice before you pay extra for avocado every single time: dietitians agree that eating too much of anything is bad news.
How much healthy fat is too much healthy fat
Anything more than 35 percent of your daily calorie intake is too much fat. The National Nutrition Guidelines (USDA) and the American Heart Association agree that a healthy diet can include up to that amount of total calories from fat, but note that saturated fats (like cheese) should be limited to less than 10 percent of that number. “If you look at an 1,800 calorie per day diet, 35 percent is about 70 grams of fat per day,” says Steven Gundry MD, Medical Director of The International Heart and Lung Institute in Palm Springs, California. (For a frame of reference, half an avocado has 16 grams of fat and one tablespoon of nut butter has about 9.5 grams.)
When athletes should adjust the number
While this is the general rule of thumb, athletes may have different fat intake needs. “Endurance athletes typically require more carbohydrates than non-athletes so they would consume less of their calories from fat,” says LA-based personal trainer and nutrition coach Melissa Merritt. Strength trainers, on the other hand, typically tend to do better with higher fat diets so they can stick closer to the 35 percent guideline.
Why not to OD on healthy fat
While they’re not artery-clogging like the bad fats, even healthy ones contain a high amount of calories—nine calories per every one gram compared to carbs and protein which yield around four calories per gram. Some examples: An avocado can add a whopping 300 calories to your meal, a single teaspoon of coconut or olive oil has around 40 calories, and one handful of nuts can equate to about 150-200 calories. As you can see, going overboard can easily cause unnecessary weight gain, “which can inadvertently lead to all the conditions associated with obesity and being overweight such as heart disease, cancer, sleep apnea, and joint pain,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, a nutritionist based in New York City and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen.
And if you’re not eating too many calories but rather, too high of a percentage of them from fat, that means you’re neglecting other nutrients. “Going above and beyond and consuming greater than 35 percent of your calories from fat could mean that you are missing out on other important components of a nutritious diet,” Gundry says. “Protein is important for athletes in order to repair and remodel skeletal muscle cells after training and carbs are a key fuel source before training and help replace depleted glycogen stores after intense exercise,” adds Merritt. A 2016 study in Nutrition Bulletin suggests that a 132-pound athlete should aim for a daily protein intake of 72-120 grams, while a 176-pound athlete should opt for between 96 and 160 grams. Overdoing the healthy fats without adding extra calories could significantly cut into these numbers.