Fat has a bad reputation.
For years, fat has been demonised as the cause of obesity and myriad health problems and the food industry has bombarded us with thousands of ‘low fat’ products
But actually fat is essential for a healthy body and is vital for any diet designed to improve your physique.
That is why we are going ‘Back to Basics’ to show exactly why you need fat in your diet, which fats you should be eating and everything else you need to know to about fat to optimise your nutrition.
Fat Makes You Fat?
Of all the macronutrients, dietary fat has the worst reputation. It’s been linked to the obesity crisis, high cholesterol, and even heart disease.
Where this myth has likely come from is the fact that fats are calorie dense.
Every 1g of fat contains nine calories, compared to protein and carbs which both contain just four calories per 1g.
This doesn’t mean eating fat will make you fat, rather, it means it’s just easier to over-consume calories from fat. Ultimately, it’s eating more calories than your body needs that will cause fat storage, rather than the macronutrient itself that it is to blame.
Why do we need fat?
Fat is an essential nutrient (along with protein) for the body, and it is involved in multiple important processes that help keep your body functioning optimally.
Here are a few:
- Fat is important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins through the small intestine (Vitamins A, D, E, and K). If you want the goodness from those veggies you’re eating, you need fat in your diet.
- Fat is needed to maintain cell membrane health. Cell membranes surround every cell in your body, and their health is critically important in managing inflammation and metabolism.
- Fat is key in regulating hormonal production.
- Fat is a great energy source when on low carbohydrate diets.
What type of fat is good?
The three main types of fat are saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
All fat-rich foods contain a mix of all three but are typically higher in one type. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products like meat, egg yolks and dairy fats. However, there are also plant sources such as coconut oil, which contains a specific type of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Saturated fat has a pretty bad reputation in the media and has been linked by some medical professionals to an increased risk of heart disease.
However, if you exercise regularly, control your overall calorie intake and include a balance of fats in your diet, then the risks are minimal.
And in practical terms, it is not possible to completely avoid saturated fat as all fat sources contain a mixture of all three fats. To do this would require extreme dietary changes that would have other undesirable effects such as insufficient protein intake and micronutrient deficiencies.
Monounsaturated fat has a positive overall effect on health and has been linked to helping lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Good sources include olive oil and the oil in avocados, nuts and seeds.
One issue to be aware of with fat sources like olive oil is that their liquid composition makes them very easy to overeat. They are also not as filling as whole foods.
As a result, we strongly recommend keeping a close eye on your serving sizes. Use digital food scales or standardise your serving sizes (e.g. teaspoons) rather than pouring straight from the bottle onto your meal.
A primary use of oils is to prevent sticking during the cooking process. If you want to free up calories to spend elsewhere in your diet, try cooking with non-stick pans or a minimal amount of cooking spray. You can also try swapping out using oils as salad dressings with lower calorie alternatives like lemon and vinegar.
The two major types of polyunsaturated fat are omega-3 and omega-6.
Unlike other fats, omega-3 and omega-6 are essential nutrients and you must include them as part of your diet (also known as essential fatty acids, EFAs).
Most people naturally consume enough omega-6 as part of their diet, but it is a lot more common for people to consume suboptimal amounts of omega-3.
To date, research on the positive health benefits of omega-3 has focused on two specific types, EPA and DHA, which are collectively known as fish oils.
The list of proven benefits associated with fish oils is almost endless and includes reduced muscle and joint soreness, reduced risk of heart disease and improved cognitive performance.
Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are the best sources and the general recommendation is to eat two to three servings a week.
Fish oil supplements can help simplify your meal planning and are a viable alternative for vegetarians and anyone who does not like the taste of fish.
Much of the bad rap surrounding fats is due to trans fats, and deservedly so.
These are the only types of fat we would actively recommend to avoid.
These fats are ‘man-made’ by turning a typically soft or liquid fat into a hardened fat by bubbling hydrogen through it – often done with the aim of extending the shelf life of the product.
This comes with a host of health issues, including poor blood lipid profiles, increased inflammation, and endothelial dysfunction.
Look out for the term ‘partially hydrogenated’ on nutrition labels to spot foods with trans fats.
How Much Fat?
This really does depend on how the rest of your diet is set up.
Protein is the most important macronutrient for managing body composition and we set this first aiming for 1g per pound of total body weight.
The next step is to set your fat target and we recommend aiming for between 25% to 50% of your total calorie intake.
Any remaining calories are then allocated to carbohydrate.
Where you fall on the dietary fat intake range depends largely on personal preference. Some people feel more mentally aware and function better on higher fat and lower carbohydrate intakes, whereas others report feeling lethargic.
Unfortunately, no magic test exists and therefore you will need to use a combination of careful monitoring and trial/error to determine the optimal fat-carb ratio for you.
At UP, we typically start clients off with a low carbohydrate intake and then gradually introduce more carbohydrates into the diet as the client progresses through their body transformation.
Does timing matter for fats?
Unlike protein and carbohydrate, nutrient timing is less important with fats.
The only time you may want to avoid fats is during and immediately post workout, where you may be taking in a lot more carbohydrates, and don’t want to slow digestion down.
During the other times, spreading your fat intake out through the day is the best option.
To sum up…
Fat doesn’t make you fat, and it won’t kill you!
If you eat the right fats in the right amounts, it’ll be very beneficial for both your health and your body composition.