The war on dietary fat is thankfully almost over but this has been an uphill battle. You can go as far back as 1977 when the American government started telling us to follow low-fat diets and lower saturated fats to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, cancer, high-blood pressure and everything else in-between. The food industry then had a massive shift toward promoting low-fat foods, putting low-fat claims on almost anything, low-fat water anyone?
This did nothing to slow the rates of heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes in the USA, these are actually some of the top diseases in America so perhaps fat is not the enemy here.
After many, many years if fat-bashing, it would seem the U.S. government, health professionals and athletes are now coming to their senses and noticing fat as an important macronutrient with many functions and health benefits. The shift is actually now more toward higher-fat diets so let’s take a closer look at fat and your health.
We definitely need fat in our diets, but not all fat is the same. Understanding different types of fat and knowing which ones are beneficial is very important to your diet.
Saturated Vs. Unsaturated Vs. Trans fat
Fatty acids are basically carbon atoms that are linked together like a chain with a single or double bond between each carbon.
Saturated fats contain single bonds which are solid at room temperature (much like butter or coconut oil). On the opposite end, unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds between carbon atoms. Monosaturated fats like avocados and nuts are pretty stable at room temperature, whereas polysaturates (plant-based oils like soy bean or corn oil) are unstable and liquid at room temperature.
Many experts associate saturated fat with plaque buildup in athletes and cardiovascular disease, this link has been called into question recently. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study which featured results from a symposium of researchers of nutrition and they concluded that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.
This was repeated in 2011 when researchers in the Netherlands concluded that the focus should be on avoiding the accumulation of saturated fats in the body (saturated fat accumulation in the body can occur from the synthesis of fatty acids from carbs) rather than avoiding dietary saturated fat per se. So it would appear that saturated fats may play a role in inflammation, in isolation they are not quite as harmful as once thought.
Fatty acids naturally are found exclusively in the cls formation ( a double bond in the carbon chain, giving the molecule a bent shape). Commercial hydrogenation adds hydrogen ions to fatty acids which in turn causes a straighter bond. This process has been used mainly to prolong the shelf life of products and reduce refrigeration requirements.
Trans-fats, which are commonly found in pre-packaged baked goods and are also referred to as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ on food labels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Trans fats are now more regulated than they were 10 years ago but are still seen in processed foods.
Omega-3 Vs. Omega-6
How is Omega-6 different to Omega-3? Nothing more than the placement of a double carbon bond related to a methyl group. Sounds nerdy, but a double bond placement has a big effect on it’s function in the body.
The difference between the two almost makes them exact polar opposites, Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and prevent blood clotting whereas Omega-6 fatty acids are believed to be pro-inflammatory and actually contribute to the narrowing of blood vessels and blood clotting.
In this way, Omega 3 and 6 appear to be big players in inflammation and overall health. Dependent on where you get your information the normal American diet has anywhere from 12:1 to 20:1, a ratio close to 5:1 or lower is more beneficial to cardiovascular health.
Foods that are high in Omega-3 like nuts, fish and canola oil have been proven to reduce cholesterol levels.
Total cholesterol levels, the combination of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides should be lower than 200Mg per dL.
HDL is often termed the good cholesterol, it scoops cholesterol from the blood and arteries, taking it to the liver to be excreted. The cardioprotective effects of HDL are a bit unknown but high levels of HDL are normally associated with reduced cardiovascular risk and could potentially act as an anti-inflammatory. Until medical science provides a solid answer to HDL which could take a while, aim to keep HDL levels above 60 mg/dL.
LDL is often thought of as bad cholesterol and transports cholesterol to cells in the body for different functions. This can lead to a build up of cholesterol in arterial walls which in turn increases the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. LDL levels should ideally measure below 100 mg/dL.
It doesn’t really matter what people say, having a fried Oreo does not provide the same good fats as a grilled salmon fillet. Obviously the Oreo is beautiful, but if your goal is to be more beach ready rather than developing metabolic syndrome, get rid of the greasy stuff and stick to high-quality oils, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Despite being made out to be the bad guy, fat has stood the test of time and is finally getting the respect it deserves as an important part to our health, here are some of the benefits and functions that fat provides.
Unlimited Amounts Of Energy
Fats are energy rich and contain 9 calories per gram, that’s more than twice the amount in carbohydrates and protein. Stored all over the body, as well as the liver and muscles, fat is a large energy reserve that can be tapped at rest or in cases of low-intensity exercise.
How much energy is there you may ask? Well an average 150-pound male with a body fat percentage of 12-15% will have 80-100k calories stored as fat. Compare this with only around 2,000 calories stored as glycogen from carbs. All this stored fat creates an abundant energy reserve that can supply 60-80% energy at rest.
If you have ever seen the movie Flubber with Robin Williams who jumps out of a 10-storey building onto his feet and then Flubber allows him to bounce back unharmed then you will know what I am talking about below.
Visceral fat does this exact job for your organs, it isn’t neon green like Flubber though i’m afraid, it’s gel-like consistency cushions our internal organs, especially during a fall or a contact sport.
Too much visceral fat can be bad for us however, an increased amount of visceral fat has been linked to insulin resistance as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Subcutaneous fat which is the stuff underneath your skin and what gets pinched during a skinfold test, acts as an insulator, preventing heat escape from the body.
It also helps with thermoregulation (an ability to regulate and maintain core body temperature) as well as organ and cellular function.
Fat is also used in the formation of myelin, a substance surrounding nerve cells that improves the speed and efficiency of nerve conduction.
How important this substance actually is becomes evident when it is damaged or destroyed, different types of diseases can develop like multiple sclerosis.
Transport The Nutrients
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluable vitamins. With no adequate fat, these vitamins could not be absorbed, transported or used and deficiencies would start to happen.
Taste And Satiation
Ever wondered why a rib-eye steak tastes so much better than a sirloin strip? Most likely due to the fat content! Fat offers a distinct flavour and texture which enhances the taste of food and if cutting calories don’t drop all the fat.
Fat is a calorie-dense molecule, with 9 calories per gram so takes longer to digest, providing satiation for a longer period of time.
So there is the final call on fat in your diet, it is needed as part of any balanced diet so don’t discount fat straight away just because of some magazine article.
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