Nutrition Articles

6 Risks of Eating a Low-Fat Diet

How Low Can You Go? The Big Fat Truth about Low-Fat Diets

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The all-or-nothing mentality prevails in our society. Here at SparkPeople though, we know better. Moderation is our mantra, and we repeat it so often that most of us understand the importance of applying it to exercise, eating and setting goals. Still, there's one thing that many of us fear so much that we forgo moderation and head to extremes: fat. The residual effects of the low-fat craze of the 1990s linger, causing many people to believe that less is more when it comes to fat. 

Being conscious of your dietary fat intake is definitely a good thing, especially when you're trying to reduce your risk of heart disease or lose weight. But if you take it too far, you could be putting your health in jeopardy.

So how much fat do you need?
For healthy adults, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 20% to 35% of your daily calories come from fat. Both SparkPeople and the American Heart Association take a middle of the road approach, advocating a 30% fat intake. Use the following chart (or refer to your SparkDiet plan) to see your estimated daily fat recommendations based on these ranges.

Recommended Daily Fat Intake Based on Calorie Needs
 
Daily Calories Ideal Fat Intake* Too Low^ Too High+
1,200 27-47 g < 27 g > 47 g
1,300 28-51 g < 28 g > 51 g
1,400 31-54 g < 31 g > 54 g
1,500 33-58 g < 33 g > 58 g
1,600 36-62 g < 36 g > 62 g
1,700 38-66 g < 38 g > 66 g
1,800 40-70 g < 40 g > 70 g
1,900 42-74 g < 42 g > 74 g
2,000 44-78 g < 44 g > 78 g
2,100 47-82 g < 47 g > 82 g
2,200 49-86 g < 49 g > 86 g
2,300 51-89 g < 51 g > 89 g
2,400 53-93 g < 53 g > 93 g

*20%-35% of daily calories
^Less than 20% of daily calories
+Greater than 35% of daily calories

Lower fat isn't necessarily better. Regularly consuming fewer than 20% of your daily calories from fat (see "Too Low" on the chart above) will put your health at risk in many ways as discussed above. A diet too high in fat (see "Too High" on the chart above) can also lead to problems—heart disease, diabetes, cancer and weight gain. Here are six health risks you're taking when you restrict your fat intake too far.

1. Poor Vitamin Absorption
Eating a diet too low in fat can interfere with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Because these nutrients are fat soluble, your body needs dietary fat to utilize them. These vitamins are stored mostly in the liver and fat tissue and are important in bodily functions such as growth, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting. If you're not eating enough fat to bring these vitamins into your body, they will be excreted, and you may be at risk for a vitamin deficiency.

2. Depression
A diet that's too low in fat—especially essential fatty acids, which your body can only get from food—might hurt your mental health. Both omega-3s and omega-6s play roles in mood and behavior. They are the precursor to many hormones and chemicals produced in the brain. One study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has linked low and abnormal essential fatty acid intake to depressive symptoms. Other research shows that, because fatty acids help to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with one another. People who are deficient in omega-3s may suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and ADHD.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

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