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MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


Fat, unsaturated fat: How much is needed

by Janet Carter
Registered Dietitian
Contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t all bad. It is important to consume some fat, but of course, not too much. Also, there are some fats that are better than others. 

Why is fat needed in the diet?
  • For the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, E, D, and K can only be absorbed in the presence of fat. Just like other vitamins and minerals, these perform important functions in our bodies.
  • Insulation and protection. Our organs are surrounded in a layer of fat to protect them and keep them insulated.
  • Hair and skin. Fat is a major component of our cells, so having enough helps keep our internal and external cells healthy.
  • Hormones, etc. Fat is a component of many important things in our bodies like hormones, bile, and lipoproteins, just to name a few.
What can happen when too much fat is consumed?
  • Increased heart disease risk.
  • Increased body weight.
There are two major types of cholesterol in our blood stream: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).  HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol, that keeps arteries clean of buildup. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol, with high levels causing buildup of plaque on artery walls.
Too much fat, especially saturated and transfat, can cause plaque in arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Because of the high level of calories in fat, it’s easy to gain weight from consuming too much.  This isn’t specific to fat, however, since weight gain can come from too much of any type of food, including carbohydrate and protein. 
In summary, it is important to consume fat, but  be careful about portions and the types of fat. 

How much fat is needed?
It’s not hard to get enough, since fat has more than double the calories of carbohydrates and protein:
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
Reading nutrition labels
  • Take the calories from fat
  • Multiply by 3
  • Compare to total calories—if more, the product is too high in fat (this trick is based on the 30 percent  fat rule).
  • This will not work for items that are fats, such as oils and mayonnaise.
  • If you want to know how much unsaturated fat is in a product and it’s not listed, you can subtract the saturated and transfats from the total, and the remainder is unsaturated.
To learn more about your fats and your diet or to receive a free nutrition consultation, stop by Wellness Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 11 in the lobby of Ashley River Tower. 

Worksite screening
This month’s Worksite Screening will be held on Aug. 26 in the university hospital.
To register, go to The cost is $15 with state health insurance coverage, and $42 for all others. 
To see a sample report of what the screening covers, visit

Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.