By: Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD
First there was the “low-fat/no-fat” craze and now we see “keto” around every corner. Where is the sensible middle ground for dietary fat, and what are the latest evidence-based recommendations?
Curious about the Keto Diet? Learn more HERE
Read on to learn the latest!
Why Do We Need To Eat Fat? 
Dietary fat improves the flavor and mouthfeel of the foods we eat. Anyone who’s enjoyed a spoonful of peanut butter straight out of the jar has experienced this firsthand! From a satisfaction standpoint, this can add to our enjoyment of meals and contribute to an overall feeling of satiety. No matter how impressive a food’s nutritional content is, it can’t provide any benefit unless we eat it.
Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and protein. It serves as an energy source and provides the essential fatty acids that we aren’t able to synthesize in the body. The pretense of dietary fat aides in the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E, and K (the fat-soluble vitamins). In addition to these functions, fat can also serve to protect internal organs and joints, comprise cell walls and aide in maintaining body temperature. 
Using peanuts or peanut butter as an ingredient for meals or snacks is one simple way to include dietary fat in your eating pattern. But how much fat should you be eating?
What Are The Current Dietary Recommendations?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines are flexible with fat intake and does not promote a low-fat diet (meaning low in total fats). In fact, the Guidelines allow up 35% total calories per day from fat as part of a healthy eating pattern. .
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines [Dietary Guidelines], a healthy eating pattern includes a wide variety of foods, such as:
- Vegetable from all subgroups, including beans, peas, and legumes
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, striving to make half of them whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese and/or fortified soy beverages
- Protein foods including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans, peas, and peanuts), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
Did you know peanut oil can be used for cooking?
A healthy eating pattern is also limited in saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. Because we all have unique nutrition needs, there will be variability in determining the adequate intake for some categories. Generally, we should aim to:
- Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars
- Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats
- Consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day
- Consume alcohol in moderation (defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men)
Overall, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is flexible with fat intake and does not advocate for a low fat diet (meaning low in total fats). In fact, the Guidelines allow up 35% total calories per day from fat as part of a healthy eating pattern. 
So Where Do Peanuts Fit In?
The good news is that peanuts supply the unsaturated fats that can support heart-health.
Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke.
Learn more about peanut nutrition HERE
But as with all nutrition recommendations, there is room for personal taste preferences, budget, and convenience. As a registered dietitian, I rely on the evidence to guide our recommendations, but we also have to consider overall lifestyle and how we can form sustainable behaviors for good health. So while peanuts provide a source of unsaturated fats, protein, and other essential nutrients, they aren’t your only option. Peanuts and peanut butter both play well with other ingredients so you can use them to enhance the flavors of other dishes that contain your favorite foods.
Need some ideas for infusing your meals with rich, creamy peanut butter flavor? Check out a few of my favorites:
Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD is a nationally recognized food & nutrition expert based in Kansas City. She owns and operates Street Smart Nutrition, where she specializes in creating fearlessly nourishing meals and inspiring clients to become more empowered and informed about their food choices. In addition to her private practice, she is a cookbook author, speaker, and media consultant. Follow Street Smart Nutrition on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to stay connected and learn more about a non-diet approach for health and happiness.
- Dietary Fats Explained: Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000104.htm
- What do fats do in the body? (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2019, from https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/Inside-Life-Science/Pages/what-do-fats-do-in-the-body.aspx
- 2015-2020 dietary guidelines: answers to your questions. (2016, January 5). Retrieved May 16, 2019, from Choose MyPlate website: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-answers-your-questions
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. From https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/key-recommendations/
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate. Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (2002/2005). This report may be accessed via http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/8_Macronutrient%20Summary.pdf (reference chart for DRIs)