Getting the right amount of fat

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Getting the right amount of fat in your diet is a delicate balancing act. Too much, and you increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. (The risk of colon cancer seems to be tied more clearly to a diet high in fat from meat rather than fat from dairy products.) Too little fat, and infants don't thrive, children don't grow, and everyone, regardless of age, is unable to absorb and use fat-soluble vitamins that smooth the skin, protect vision, bolster the immune system, and keep reproductive organs functioning.

In the fall of 2002, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that no more than 20 to 45 percent of daily calories should come from fat. On a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that's 400 to 900 calories from fats a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (see Chapter 16) lowers that to 20 to 30 percent of total calories. Translation: 400 to 600 of the calories on a 2,000-calorie/day regimen.

Because your body doesn't need to get saturated fats, cholesterol, or trans fats from food, neither IOM nor the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 have set levels for these nutrients, except to say, "Keep them as low as possible, please."

This advice about fat intake is primarily for adults. Although many organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommend restricting fat intake for older children, they stress that infants and toddlers require fatty acids for proper physical growth and mental development, and that's why Mother Nature made human breast milk (see Chapter 28) so high in fatty acids. Never limit the fat in your baby's diet without checking first with your pediatrician.

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