How do you feel about fat? Overwhelmed with information? Eager to tell your friend all you know about it? Or are you one of those people who just doesn’t want to talk about it. Well, I am someone who kills fat for a living and my clients love and hate me for it. I am here to tell you more about this nutrient that society still can’t decide whether they like or not.
What is fat?
You hear so much about it. It literally went from “Public enemy number 1” to “All you should eat is fat” approach. Ketogenic diet, ketosis, paleo diet, body fat, fatty acids, etc. All these words are bombarding our phones, TVs and magazines (if you still read them). But do you really know what fat is and why do we need it (or don’t)?
Fat serves functions like insulation, cell structure, nerve transmission, vitamin absorption and hormone production. Fat is also a major fuel source for the body. If we break it down to calories, fat has the highest amount of calories at 9cal per gram, which makes it almost 38kJ (compared to protein and carbohydrates at almost 17kJ). Kilojoules (kJ) are measures of how much energy body gets from food or drink. And it looks like fat will give you the highest amount of energy per gram. And I am talking energy because we eat (and drink) food for energy, so we can conquer the world one step at the time.
All the myths and truth
• “Eat fat. It won’t make you fat.” For decades we thought, if we eat fat, we will get fat. Now we hear, all you need to eat is fat to lose weight. How can two totally different sentences become our reality? Harvard did research and concluded that low-fat diets are not more effective in long-term weight loss than higher-fat diets. Problem becomes, when you eat low anything, your body will make you eat more of something else. And if that ends up being refined carbs and sugar, you will gain weight. Fat has this great trait we often forget about: Satiety, the feeling of fullness. How? The presence of fat in small intestine triggers the release of the hormone cholecystokinin. It stimulates the release of gastric inhibitory peptide and secretin, which decreases gut movement and slow digestion. Eating a low-fat diet will make you eat more of something else. It is how our bodies work.
• “All you should eat is fat!” Now, before you stock up on avocados, nuts, jars of olive oil and almond butter, let me stop you. Keep reading. Once your body gets enough fat to sustain and effectively do its essential roles in the body (read above), all the extra calories you consumed with fatty foods will “unfortunately” stay in the body. Any fatty acids NOT IMMEDIATELY NEEDED by the cells pass to the liver, where they are repackaged and sent to adipose tissue, where they are stored as fat. And excess of anything means weight gain. Now at 9 cal per gram, eating too much fat can be more detrimental than eating too much protein and carbs (4 cal per gram). Bottom line is, you should get 20-30% of your calories from fat to give your body sustainable fuel.
• Fat-free or low fat? Now that’s another question people get confused about and pulled in all directions. What’s better? Healthier? If you take something out of the food that you are eating, it will lose it’s flavor. Manufacturers do a great job at replacing fat with artificial ingredients, sugar or salt. And if they don’t, taste will be compromised, as well as something more important. Absorption of vitamins and minerals. For example, when you opt-out for fat-free salad dressing, you might not fully absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants (lycopene and beta-carotene) found in vegetables. But then again, you can also add olive oil or avocado and get the same effect and avoid any artificial ingredients dressings can have :). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who gravitate towards full-fat dairy products may have lower rates of diabetes (probably because of that sugar manufactures add into your fat-free food). The body also needs fat to go along with vitamin D, calcium and the nutrients in dairy to get their full benefits. So feel free to reach after natural, full-fat state of foods, but be aware of your portions.
Fat as fuel or Keto diet
Fat is the best fuel. But is it? Here is where I break into the world known as Ketogenic diet. I write “World” because they actually really should have their own planet :). Only 10% of calories is consumed from carbohydrates and up to 75% from fat. Keto advocates believe that this will induce a physiological shift, where a body in motion is more efficient at burning fat during exercise. They believe it provides a bigger reserve of energy to push through long training bouts than loading up on pasta, pancakes and bagels before big races. Loading on carbohydrates inhibits fat utilization and can lead to premature fatigue and brain fog. But is that true? In 2016 The Journal Metabolism found that marathoners and Ironman participants, who consumed a high-fat diet (70% fat, 10% carbs) for 9-36months, burned fat at much greater rates during a 180min run at 64% VO2max, than those who followed lower-fat diet (25% fat, 59% carbs). But before you indulge that guacamole, ask yourself, “Are your workouts 180mins long? Are you signing up for next Ironman? Maybe you’d like to become professionals marathoner?” If you answered “Yes” to one of those questions, you have my permission to eat that guacamole :).
But, if you are a regular gym goer, that likes to take HIIT classes, you might want to keep reading. HIIT classes are usually shorter than 180mins and way more intense than 64% VO2max. I’m sure you sometimes feel like you will have a heart attack :). Fact is, carbohydrates require less chemical reactions in your body to be converted into useful fuel, which makes them faster available for you in the intense short bouts of work you are doing during your lunch hour. All of a sudden carbs are good, right?
What about saturated fat?
If you are at least a little bit in the know of nutrition, you can say for certain that saturated fat is bad for you. And you are right! You might have heard opposite, but remember that “Lack of harm is not the same as being good for you.” Saturated fat in still linked to cardiovascular disease and higher risk for heart conditions than unsaturated fat (mono and poly). But good news for all my chocolate lovers (myself included :)). Not all saturated fat is created equal. Stearic acid in chocolate and lauric acid in coconut oil might be more innocuous than those found in beef and diary. But unfortunately, they are still not proven healthier than nuts, avocado or seeds. Dark chocolate covered almonds anyone?
Experts advise not to eat more than 10% of your daily calories in saturated fat. They actually recommend to avoid it, if possible and try to substitute it with less harmful unsaturated version.
Fat shouldn’t be a tabu nor the only thing you eat. It has to be a trending topic so we can all learn more about it. It is necessary for our well being. Let’s all focus more on quality of food we are eating every day and not how many percentage come from each macronutrients. A well balanced diet in abundance of whole foods is a recipe for long, healthy life. And at the end of the day, a trip to Whole Foods and getting a trainer or gym membership, might be cheaper than your medical bill. Try it!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any topics you’d like to know more about, feel free to send a message and I will do my best to write on it in my next flog.