Role of dietary fat in a healthy diet

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Learn about the role of fat in the body, different types of fat, and how to manage your family's fat intake.

Key points

  • Fat provides energy, helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, and provides essential fatty acids for a range of important functions.
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lower cholesterol, help prevent blood clots, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat should replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat.
  • Saturated fats raise bad cholesterol and are linked to heart disease. Sources of saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, lard, shortening, butter, and coconut oil.
  • Children aged one to three should get 30-40% of daily calories from fats. For older children and teens, fats should make up only 25-35% of daily calories.

Fat is an essential part of the diet and helps with a number of bodily functions. However, some fats can be harmful, so it is important to limit their intake.

What it does

Dietary fat has a number of roles in the body.

  • It gives you energy while you are resting or doing low-intensity exercise.
  • It is important for brain development in babies/toddlers.
  • It helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • It provides essential fatty acids—fats that we need to consume because the body needs them to perform certain functions such as keeping the heart healthy, making hormones, and building healthy cells and skin.

Everyone needs to consume some fat in their diet. Fat is especially important in helping young children grow and develop.

Where you will find it

Fat is found mostly in protein foods like milk, cheese, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds.

Fats occur naturally in some foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and seeds and helps give each food its distinct flavour. Fat is also found in processed foods such as baked goods (including muffins, pies, and cookies), potato chips, French fries, nachos, crackers, and gravy. Fat can also be added to food at home if you use oil in cooking or as a dressing.

Types of fat

FatWhere to find itWhat it does

Olive and canola oil

Soft non-hydrogenated margarines


Almonds, pistachios, pecans, and cashews

Helps lower cholesterol
  • Omega-3 fatty acid
  • Omega-6 fatty acid
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and sardines
  • Oils and margarines
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs and milk products
  • Safflower, sunflower, and corn oils
  • Some soft non-hydrogenated margarines
  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds

Helps lower cholesterol

Omega-3 helps prevent clotting of blood and lowers the risk of heart disease


Fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin

Processed meats like deli meats

Whole milk, butter, hard margarine, lard, shortening, ice cream

Some vegetable oils, including coconut and palm kernel oils

Raises the levels of "bad" (LDL - low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood

Some saturated fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease

Trans fats

Artificial trans fats are no longer added to processed foods in Canada

Natural trans fats can be found in foods like meat, whole milk, and butter

When added to processed foods, trans fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease

Natural trans fats have not been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. However, foods containing natural trans fats also contain higher amounts of saturated fats.

How much fat to include in your family's diet

Fat is an important source of energy for growing children.

  • Children aged one to three need to get 30-40% of their daily calories from fats.
  • For older children and teens, fat should make up 25-35% of their daily calories.
  • Adults should only get 20-35% of their daily calories from fat.

Encourage your child to eat nutritious foods that do not contribute to excess consumption of saturated fat. Since younger children need to consume more fat than older children, teens, and adults, they can benefit from consuming full fat milk products like homogenized milk and yogurt even though these foods contain some saturated fats. These foods also contain important nutrients, such as calcium, that children need to grow. Older children, teens, and adults should get no more than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat. Limit the foods that contain saturated fat such as butter, hard margarine, lard, and shortening. The rest of their fat requirement can be met with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of unsaturated fat include canola, flaxseed, olive, peanut, soybean, or sunflower oils. You can find them in salad dressings, spreads, dips, margarine, and mayonnaise.

Last updated: September 17th 2021