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Recommended fat intake  % of total daily energy

Recommended fat intake % of total daily energy
20-35% Total fat
<10% Saturated
fatty acids
<1% Trans
fatty acids
6-11% Poly unsaturated
fatty acids
(PUFA)
2,5-9% n-6 PUFA
Linoleic Acid
(LA)
0,5-2% n-3 PUFA
0,5-2% n-3 PUFA
Alpha linoleic
acid (ALA)
250 mg/day Long chain n-3 PUFA
Eicosapentaenoic
acid (EPA) +
Docosahexaenoic
acid (DHA)
Source: Joint WHO/FAO expert consultation "Diet, Nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases". WHO Technical report series 916. Geneve, 2008
Source
Key scientific facts  >  Dietary recommendations
Both quantity and quality
of fats count: the quantity
of ingested fat is part of the total energy intake and can therefore favour body weight gain. Whitin a balanced diet,...
...high fat quality (less saturated and trans, more unsaturated fatty acids) helps in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome.

Ibrahim Elmadfa
Professor of Human Nutrition, PhD
President of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences
Nature is more ingenious than we can comprehend. Therefore evolving science will continuously require adjustments of dietary recommendations.

Gerard Hornstra
PhD Med, Professor Em. of
Experimental Nutrition


DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS

The goal of dietary recommendations is to meet nutritional needs, support optimal health and well‐being and at the same time prevent the development of chronic diseases.

The quantity of fat consumed contributes to total energy intake. Energy intake should be balanced by energy expenditure, mostly physical activity, to avoid overweight.

The quality of fat in the diet, (i.e. the relative amounts of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fatty acids - from both omega-6 and omega-3 families) is important for normal growth and development. It affects blood cholesterol levels and the risk of several non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and possibly hypertension. 

In line with authoritative international health bodies (WHO/FAO) and current evidence, the IEM supports the following recommendations for optimal lifelong health from age two years though adulthood:
  • Fat may provide from 20% up to 30‐35% of the daily energy intake;
  • Saturated fatty acids should provide no more than 10% of the daily energy intake;
  • Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (omega-6 and omega-3) should contribute 6‐11 % of the daily energy intake;
  • The omega-3 polyunsaturated alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) should provide 0.5%-2% of the daily energy intake.
  • Adults should consume at least 250mg/day of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA);
  • The intake of trans fatty acids should be kept to a minimum and not exceed 1% of the daily energy intake;
  • The remainder of the energy from fat can be provided by monounsaturated fatty acids.
Simple information on the different types of fats can be found in the FAQ section of this website.

WHY IS FAT QUALITY SO IMPORTANT FOR HEALTH?

Most of the evidence so far is related to cardiovascular health. Data from decades of research  via different  methods (cohort studies, intervention studies) point to the same direction that replacing saturated  and trans fatty acids in the diet by unsaturated fatty acids benefits blood lipids levels and that replacement by PUFA from both omega-6 and omega-3 families also reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

Beyond cardiovascular health, emerging science suggests that fat quality could also impact related health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and hypertension

In addition, there is increasing scientific evidence that polyunsaturated fatty acids are needed for child growth and development. DHA, a long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, is important for infant brain and visual development, with benefits that extend well into childhood. Therefore a recent consensus recommendation is that pregnant and lactating women should aim at achieving adequate intakes of the parent essential PUFA LA and ALA as well as an average DHA intake of at least 200 mg/day. This can usually be reached with 1 or 2 portions of ocean fish per week if fatty fish is included. For infants, DHA supply (100 mg/day) should persist after breastfeeding for up to 2 years.

However, as always in science, debate continues in a number of areas.

There is concern about the safety of an unlimited increase in omega-6 fatty acids consumption. Contributions to the emerging LA skepticism are the well-documented reduction of the omega-3 long-chain PUFA status by dietary LA, its possible effects on early human development, its controversial pro-inflammatory potential, and its potential contribution to obesity. These questions warrant further investigation. However the WHO recommends a maximum of LA intake of 9% of total energy. LA intake in most countries ranges from 3 to 7% of total energy, suggesting that current consumption is unlikely to undermine the benefits of replacing dietary saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The omega-6/omega-3 ratio is tempting by its apparent simplicity. However WHO/FAO and several other authorities have confirmed that it is not a useful concept. It is more important for health to ensure that recommendations for all types of essential PUFA are met individually: the omega-6 PUFA LA, the vegetable omega-3 PUFA ALA and importantly the long-chain omega-3 PUFA from mainly marine sources (DHA and EPA).

Not all saturated fatty acids have the same effect on blood cholesterol - should there then be recommendations per individual SFA? Many health authorities (including WHO/FAO) acknowledge this fact, but maintain their recommendation to limit the total amount of SFA for several reasons: there is still limited evidence that different SFA would have different effects on clinical endpoints of cardiovascular diseases, and different SFA types generally go together in the same foods and fats, and it is practically impossible to separate them in diet.

The question is still debated whether trans fats of natural origin have the same deleterious effect on blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk as trans fats from industrial origin. As a matter of fact, industrial trans fats have been much more studied, and there is a lot of emphasis in reducing their amount in manufactured food products. Consuming low fat meat and dairy products can help limiting both SFA intake and TFA intake from natural origin.