Too much of anything isn’t a good thing, especially if it’s saturated fat, which is found in a lot of meat and animal byproducts, such as cheese and dairy. There are a few key signs that your body could be sending you right now that may indicate you’re eating too much of the stuff.
Cardiologist and founder of Step One Foods, Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, details a few of those warning signals and explains some of the long-term effects of eating too much fat your body could suffer from if you neglect to diversify your diet.
What are some warning signs that you’re including too much fat in your diet?
Klodas says there are some common indicators that you’re eating too much fat in your diet, even if they are the healthy fats found in avocados, salmon, and nuts.
- You’re gaining weight. “Fats are calorie-dense, supplying twice as many calories gram for gram as carbohydrates or protein,” says Klodas. For context, fat provides nine calories per one gram, whereas carbs and protein both provide four calories per gram.
- Your cholesterol levels are rising. Saturated fats, which are in animal sources such as butter, cheese, the marbling in beef can, “wreak havoc with your lab results,” says Klodas. “People who consume excess amounts of saturated fat tend to display elevations in LDL cholesterol readings.” LDL cholesterol is also known as the bad type of cholesterol. Those who follow the keto diet are especially prone to having higher-than-normal LDL levels because they’re primarily eating fat.
- Your breath smells bad. “If you are utilizing fat as your primary energy source, you are producing ketones, which leads to you giving off an unpleasant odor,” says Klodas. “Many people who go on a diet that is high in fat and severely reduced in carbohydrate intake will need to brush their teeth several times per day to lessen this side effect.”
- You’re experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort. If your diet is high in fat, that likely means you’re not including a lot of vegetables, fruit, or whole grains into your diet, all of which are great sources of fiber. A diet that’s low in fiber can lead to constipation and other digestive problems. This is also a common side effect for those who eat too much meat.
- You just feel gross. Klodas says that both saturated and trans fats are both known to cause inflammation in the body, which can make you feel bloated and sluggish, among other things.
How much fat should you eat per day?
The FDA says the maximum standard of total fat you should eat per day—if you follow a 2,000-calorie a day diet—is 78 grams. Of course, this number can vary by individual depending on how many calories you eat per day. However, this should be used as a benchmark.
For example, Klodas says a smaller woman who only requires 1,500 calories a day may only need a maximum of 58 grams of total fat per day. On the other hand, an elite athlete who needs about 3,500 calories each day to maintain weight could eat as much as 135 grams of total fat in one day.
In addition, no more than 10% of your daily calories should be devoted to saturated fat. So if you eat about 2,000 calories each day, you should limit your saturated fat consumption to 22 grams, tops. However, the American Heart Association suggests that you consume half that number at just 13 grams per day in order to promote good heart health.
Trans fats should be avoided altogether, and they’re often sneakily hidden in packaged, heavily processed foods. One way you can make sure you’re not accidentally eating something that has trans fat in it is by scanning the nutrition label to see if it includes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. If it does, consider skipping it.
What are some potential long-term side effects of eating too much fat?
As is the case with eating too much of any single type of food, you miss out on various other vital nutrients that you could inevitably receive from eating a diverse group of foods. So if you were to favor eating foods that are high in fat, such as meat, certain types of fish, and even nuts versus eating a balance of different foods such as leafy greens, fruit, and whole grains, you could become deficient in several key vitamins and minerals.
Another thing Klodas warns about is altering your body’s innate biochemistry. If you regularly consume calorie-dense foods or foods that are high in fat and notice that you’re increasingly packing on the pounds, you could put yourself at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance. That can lead to Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and hypertension.
Not to mention, Klodas says consistently eating too much fat can increase your cancer risk. “Studies looking at eating habits of various populations and health metrics show a consistent relationship between high fat intake and high overall cancer rates,” she says.
What are some examples of good quality fats that we need in our diet?
Fat, just like carbs and protein, is a macronutrient that we need to eat in order to survive. And, as Klodas says, it’s not an argument of whether it’s better to eat a diet that’s lower in fat versus one that’s higher in it. Instead, the focus should be on the quality of the fats you’re consuming.
For example, unsaturated fats (which are liquid at room temperature versus saturated fats that are solid) are found in plant-based sources such as olive oil, oils found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish are all very extremely healthy for you. These types of fats, as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is just one type of omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds all work to promote HDL levels, aka the good kind of cholesterol. This, in part, can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack.
“In fact, in a clinical trial, we showed that adding in two grams of ALA per day [from food] in conjunction with whole food fiber and plant sterols yielded highly significant, even medication-level cholesterol reductions in as little as 30 days,” says Klodas.
So, now you know some of the key warning signs your body could be sending you that indicate you’re eating too much fat. Don’t let that deter you from eating these healthy fat sources—just be mindful of what you’re consuming.