Fat is used by the nervous system, in the production of hormones, keeps your hair, nails and hair healthy and is an essential component of every cell in your body. Fat is also needed to transport fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) around the bloodstream and is the source of omega 3 and 6. For those who are trying to lose body fat and improve their overall health and nutrition, eating some types of fat regularly is essential.
Eating fat makes you fat?
At 9 calories per gramme fat is the most calorific per gramme of all the macronutrients, it trumps carbohydrate and protein which contain 4 calories per gramme. So armed with just this information logic might suggest that if you want to reduce body fat, then reducing the amount of fat you eat would be the easiest way to reduce the calories, but things are not that simple.
The fear of fat was widespread and peddled by government health advisors for many years, this advice was, and still is, to eat a mainly starchy carbohydrate (bread, pasta etc) based diet and keep fat consumption relatively low. This advice is based on the calorific content of fat… and some questionable science, which may have been influenced by sugar, wheat and grain industries, but that is another discussion!
In general, over the past 30 years, people are consuming less fat in their diet yet obesity rates have risen.
Eating fat is satisfying and can keep you feeling fuller for longer, low fat and reduced fat foods do not have the same effect and can leave you feeling hungry soon after you eat them.
When the body needs a slow, sustained release of energy, such as during a long distance run or walk it will prefer to use fat as a source of fuel. When the body needs a quick, fast source of energy such as during a lift or middle distance run it prefers to use carbohydrate. This is a very simplistic look at how the body uses fuel, you could, in fact, run a whole marathon on carbohydrate however you would need to constantly replace it every few hours with energy gels etc, if you to fuel your run with fat then you might be slower, but would have the ability to go much further.
This is demonstrated in the diets of several European countries including the French, Austrians, Finish, Icelandic and Swiss, who all have high-fat diets and low levels of heart disease. A diet high in carbohydrate and trans-fat consumption, combined with a lack of good fats are more likely to be the cause of high ‘bad cholesterol’ levels.
Trans-fat: These are the real 'bad fats', there are very small amounts in meat and dairy products. The majority of trans-fat is formed artificially when vegetable fat is converted into hydrogenated fats. The vegetable oil/fat is placed under pressure and squeezed closer together, which makes it hard. These fats are cheap and used in some fast foods, takeaways and manufactured food, it is cost efficient and increases the shelf life of food. Regular consumption of these fats are particularly damaging to health. The World Health Organisation recommends an intake of trans-fat at less than 1% of daily energy requirements.
Butter vs Marge: Many people believe that butter should be avoided due to its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, instead they opt for margarine and spreads. There is more and more evidence suggesting that high levels of margarine and spread consumption could increase heart disease, whereas butter has no effect. So butter wins!
Monounsaturated Fats: Can be found in foods such as olive oil, olives, avocado, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. These are also high in vitamin E, an important anti-oxidant, which is often in short supply in western diets. The high level of olive oil consumption in Mediterranean diets is thought to be a contributing factor in the lower levels of heart diseases. Research has shown that monounsaturated fat lowers ‘bad' cholesterol while promoting ‘good' cholesterol. Unsaturated fats also contain essential fatty acids which are linked with healthy skin, reduced heart disease and reduced risk of contracting certain types of cancer including breast and bowel cancer.
Polyunsaturated fats: found in fish and plant oils such as sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, they have similar health benefits to monounsaturated fats.
Omega-3: These needed for proper brain function, regulation of hormones immune support and improved blood flow. They also protect against heart disease, stroke, prevent Alzheimer's and depression. They also increase the delivery of oxygen to muscles, improve aerobic capacity, help speed up recovery and reduce inflammatory and joint stiffness.
You can get Omega-3 from the following sources:
- Oily fish (Sardines, Salmon, Mackerel, Fresh Tuna (not tinned), Herring and trout
- Walnuts and oil
- Pumpkin seeds and oil
- Dark green leafy veg
- Rapeseed oil
Omega-6: Many people over consume Omega-6 in relation to Omega-3 the ideal ratio would be 1:1, however, many diets are more like 10:1 or even 20:1. This can lead to a pro inflamed state which has been linked to various diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, stroke, and cancer.
Omega-6 rich sources include:
- Soya oil
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Peanut or groundnut oil
- Sesame oil
To get a good balance of Omega 3, limit processed and deep fried foods and use oils rich in monounsaturated fats (olive oil/rapeseed oil), eat leafy veg and aim for at least one portion of oily fish per week or consider a fish oil supplement.
Cholesterol plays a crucial role in the body and is necessary for hormone production, nerve/brain function, and cell formation. The liver naturally produces cholesterol, it has been thought that when we eat high levels of saturated fat, our liver is stimulated to make cholesterol in amounts above and beyond what is required by the body. However as mentioned before, poor cholesterol levels are more likely to be associated with a lack of ‘good fat’ consumption, excessive carb consumption and inactivity.
Cholesterol can be both good and bad.
* VLDL – Very Low-Density Lipoprotein
* LDL – Low-Density Lipoprotein
* HDL – High Density Lipoprotein
Exercise can increase HDL, this is good. HDL’s sweep the blood for LDL and VLDL which are the main cause of blocked arteries. Omega 3 also promotes the production of HDL.
Consumption of fat is essential to good health and is usually in short supply in most people's diets. If you want to be healthier and if you are interested in reducing your body fat, then eating ‘good fats' is a good idea. The reason essential fatty acids are called essential is because your body needs them to function correctly.
Avoid transfats and dont be scared of butter! (have you ever tried butter in your coffee, it is delicious). Studies have suggested that grass-fed animals have been shown to produce fats richer in Omega 3, than animals fed on grain. So making sure that animal fat is from a good quality source might have a more beneficial effect of your health.
The main point of this post is if you are avoiding fat because it makes you fat, then you could actually be making things harder for yourself!
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