All fats are not created equal, however, and certain ones provide more benefit than others. There is some evidence, for example, that monounsaturated fats may raise the body's HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that protects against heart disease.
Olive oil, which is rich in a monounsaturated fat, also contains small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to be beneficial to the heart. Fish and nut and seed oils also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
"There are a couple other factors in favor of certain fats. Fat-free diets can make you feel hungry all the time, thus making it easier to cave in to overeating. They also put some people, particularly children, at risk for nutrient deficiencies," Vitetta-Miller says.
"Putting children on low-fat diets when they're in their growing years is extremely risky," she says. "Children under age of 2 should never be on a low-fat diet."
AHA's fat guideline for Americans over the age of 2 states that total fat shouldn't be more than 30 percent of their daily calories. The Heart Association offers this yardstick for consuming the different types of fat:
* Saturated fatty acids, the main dietary culprit in raising blood cholesterol, should be less than 10 percent of calories. The main sources of saturated fatty acids in the typical American diet are foods from animals (chicken, beef, pork and dairy products, for example) and certain types of plants.
* Polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in corn oil and some other liquid vegetable oils, should be 8 percent to 10 percent of calories.
* Monounsaturated fatty acids, such as peanut, olive and canola oil, make up the rest of the total fat intake and should be about 10 percent to 15 percent of calories.
AHA's dietary guidelines also recommend that you restrict your cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day and limit sodium intake to no more than 2,400 milligrams (2.4 grams) per day. Like saturated fat, cholesterol is present in all foods from animal sources, such as meat, fish and poultry, as well as dairy products.