If you have questions about improving your diet, or if you're wondering what to make of the latest food news, ask our nutritionist. She'll select one question to answer every week.

Ask the Nutritionist

Ann Coulston Question:
I've heard that some fats are good for my heart. But I know I'm supposed to watch how much fat I eat. What's the maximum amount of "good" fat that I should eat every day?
— D. Bodner, Takoma Park, MD
    Ann Coulston

Studies show that unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats, protect against heart disease; that's why monounsaturated fats are nicknamed "good" fats. The bad fat is saturated fat, which increases your risk of heart disease. A low-fat diet rich in good fats may increase the amount of "good" cholesterol in your blood while keeping your total cholesterol low.

Even though these fats are good for your heart, you probably don't need to add fats to your diet. Eating more fat quickly increases total calories and unwanted pounds (and excess body weight is itself a major risk factor for heart disease).

To increase the amount of good fats in your diet follow this example based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your total fat intake should equal no more than 30% of your total calories, or 65 grams. Of that 30%, less than 10% should come from saturated fat (no more than 7 grams). That leaves 58 grams of fat you should get from unsaturated sources. To put this in perspective, a tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams of total fat, 13 of which are good fat.

If you can't keep track of which foods have which fats, remember this rule: animal fats are higher in saturated fat and plant fats are generally higher in unsaturated fats. Substitute good-fat food choices such as canola oil, olive oil, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, avocados and olives for foods such as sausage, butter, cheese or ice cream.

Learn more about the link between diet and cholesterol from the American Dietetic Association, one of our Resource Associations.


About Ann Coulston

Ann M. Coulston, M.S.,R.D., graduated from Cornell University with a master's degree in nutritional science and is a former research dietitian at Stanford University Medical Center, and a past president of both the American Dietetic Association (1998-1999) and the California Dietetic Association. Ann specializes in clinical research on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and collaborates with medical scientists in research on diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

She has been recognized for excellence in the practice of research and clinical nutrition by the American Dietetic Association Foundation, and is the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Medallion award for leadership. The California Dietetic Association has awarded her the Distinguished Service and Outstanding Member awards.


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