Why Do the Elderly Need Fat? (+5 Best Fat Sources)

Dietary fat is essential for senior health but so is eating high-quality sources. Learn the importance of and types of high-fat foods for seniors here!

senior squeezing lemon atop salmon

With so much focus on low-fat diets, many may wonder if high-fat foods for seniors can be healthy. Fats for elderly people can have health benefits and provide an adequate amount of calories. Beyond that, meeting the recommended fat intake for elderly people can be both nutritious and delicious. 

Keep on reading to find out how much fat should an elderly person eat. 

Why Do Elderly Need Fat?

Older adults need a balanced diet, one that includes fats. However, not all fats are created equal. Too many saturated fats can cause problems, but too few unsaturated fats can have adverse implications for health, too.

Fats are a unique kind of macronutrient. While protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, fats contain 9 calories per gram. This makes them more calorie dense than other forms of nutrition.  

There are three main kinds of fat: 

  • Trans fat: created through an artificial process called hydrogenation (i.e. partially hydrogenated oil) and known to create inflammation in the body and lead to chronic disease
  • Saturated fat: commonly found in animal products and considered unhealthy if not consumed in moderation
  • Unsaturated fat: known as “healthy fats” and include omega-3 fatty acids, poly- and monounsaturated fats

Often, older people can have unintended weight loss and other health problems due to not getting enough nutrients. Healthy, unsaturated fats can be high in calories while also helping seniors stay at a healthy weight (and get the nutrients they need). 

Benefits Of High-Fat Foods

While green leafy vegetables usually get all the glory, healthy high-fat foods can benefit the body since they can: 

  • Contribute to cognitive function (brain health) 
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Prevent unintended weight loss 
  • Promote healthy weight gain

Recommended Fat Intake For Elderly

A 2019 study in Nutrients suggests that people with metabolic syndrome, a health condition linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, were less likely to be eating enough fat and macronutrients. For this reason, and for the benefits listed above, it is important that seniors are meeting dietary requirements for fat. 

Between meals and snacks, seniors should get 20-35% of calories each day from fats (preferably healthy fats). No more than 8-10% of those calories should come from saturated fats. 

Recommended Fatty Acid Intake

There are two fatty acids  for which dietary reference intakes (DRIs) are available: 

  • Linoleic Acid: a polyunsaturated omega-6 acid found in most plant oils that plays a special role in heart health
  • α-Linolenic Acid: an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants that is essential to growth, development, and normal body functions

For men over 51 years, 14 grams per day of linoleic acid and 1.6 grams per day of α-linolenic acid are recommended. For women of the same age, 11 grams per day of linoleic acid and 1.1 grams per day of α-linolenic acid are recommended. 

High-Fat Foods For Seniors

Wondering which dietary fats are best? A recent study in Cancer Medicine suggests that monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) and long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS) may help prevent diseases like cancer. 

In other words, making sure your diet has enough healthy (unsaturated) fats can work wonders for your overall wellness. Here are the top five sources of healthy fats for seniors. 

Nuts, Nut Butters, and Seeds

Some sources of protein, like chia seeds, can also contribute healthy fats to the diet. Popular nuts and seeds for seniors include: 

  • Almonds 
  • Flaxseed
  • Peanut butter
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Walnuts 

Dairy Products

Full-fat dairy products, like whole milk, are great for both healthy weight gain and adding fats to the diet. Foods like Greek yogurt parfait can add both protein and fats to the diet. Alternatively, you can add butter to foods like oats or vegetables throughout the day for extra fat. 

Olive Oil (and Other Vegetable Oils) 

If you’re not a big fan of butter, vegetable oils can also add flavor and fat to your diet. Olive oil is a versatile favorite that contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 

Some Fruits

Fruits and vegetables can also be a source of dietary fat. In particular, avocados are well-known for having healthy fats. Coconuts contain saturated fats but can also be considered part of a healthy diet. 

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, as implied by their name, are an excellent source of healthy fats. They can help you meet the fatty acid requirements of your diet while also adding variety to your weekly meals. A few omega-rich types of seafood and fish include: 

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Trout 
  • Tuna

Experts suggest having fatty fish at least once a week. If you feel you aren’t getting enough fatty fish in your diet, talk with your doctor or dietitian about taking a fish oil pill. 

Recapping High-Fat Foods for Seniors

Seniors need healthy fats in their diet to maintain overall wellness. To get enough dietary fats, try eating more vegetable oils, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Fruits and vegetables can also help you to meet your fat and nutrient needs (plus, they are delicious). 


Dominguez LJ, Barbagallo M. Nutritional prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Acta Biomed. 2018;89(2):276-290. 

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges. National Institutes of Health. Published 2011. 

Hewlings S. Coconuts and Health: Different Chain Lengths of Saturated Fats Require Different Consideration. J Cardiovasc Dev Dis. 2020;7(4):59. 

McGrattan AM, McGuinness, McKinley MC, Kee F, Passmore P, et al. Diet and Inflammation in Cognitive Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. Curr Nutr Rep. 2019;8(2):53-65. 

Mikstas C. Fatty Fish That Are High in Omega-3s. WebMD. Published August 2022. 

National Institutes of Health. Nutrient Recommendations and Databases. Ods.od.nih.gov.

Nutritional goals for each age/sex group used in assessing adequacy of USDA Food Patterns at various calorie levels. Health.gov.