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5.4: Lipid/Fat Recommendations

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  • Learning Objectives

    • Describe the current recommended intake levels for lipids.
    • Recognize sources of saturated, trans, unsaturated, and essential fatty acids.

    Recommended Fat Intake

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) includes the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) recommendations for adults for the various types of lipids/fats.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for Lipids
    Lipid Type AMDR (% of total calories)
    Total Fat 20–35
    Saturated Fat < 10
    Trans Fat minimize (less than 1%)
    Cholesterol minimize
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids (alpha-linolenic acid) 0.6-1.2
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids (linoleic acid) 5-10

    Sources of Fats

    Food may contain visible fats and/or hidden fats. Visible fats are fats we knowingly add to foods such as butter, cream, mayonnaise, and dressings. Hidden fats are added to processed and prepared foods to improve taste and texture. Examples of hidden fats include marbling in meat, regular-fat dairy products, and fried foods.

    Most fat-containing foods have multiple types of fat in them, so even though a food may be classified as an unsaturated fat it could still contain some saturated fat. For example, olive oil contains 78% monounsaturated fat, 8% polyunsaturated fat, and 14% saturated fat1. Olive oil is considered to be a monounsaturated fat because it is made up of mostly monounsaturated fat. Common sources of the different types of fats are included in Table \(\PageIndex{2}\).

    Most fat in our diets should be from beneficial fats such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plants, plant oils, nuts, seeds, fish, and fish oils are high in these beneficial fats. The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming as little dietary cholesterol as possible. Our body makes cholesterol, so we don't have to worry about getting it from food.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Common Food Sources of Various Fats
    Lipid Type Common Sources
    Saturated Fat animal products, dairy products, palm and coconut oils, and cocoa butter
    Trans Fat stick/tub margarines, fast foods, commercial baked goods, some snack foods
    Cholesterol animal products, liver, eggs, dairy products
    Monounsaturated Fat nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts) and nut products, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, high oleic safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil
    Polyunsaturated Fat nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, and peanuts), soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and fish (trout, herring, and salmon)
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids (alpha-linolenic acid) canola oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, green leafy vegetables, cod liver oil, and fatty fish (tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon, and trout)
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids (linoleic acid) eggs, poultry, most vegetable oils, wheat germ oil, whole grains, baked goods, cereals, nuts and seeds (flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)

    Key Takeaways

    • The recommended fat intake for adults is 20–35% of your total caloric intake. Saturated fat should be less than 10% of your total caloric intake and trans fat should be less than 1% of total caloric intake.
    • Nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and vegetable oil such as soybean, canola, and flaxseed are excellent sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.


    1. Gatewood J. Vegetable Oils – Comparison, Cost, and Nutrition. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Accessed June 17, 2020.
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