Fat Intake: The good and The Bad, What you Need to Know
Within the fitness and health industry, the negative stigma around fat intake has been one that has dominated the minds of the lesser informed demographics. With marketing ploys demonizing foods containing fat and creating negative stigma around even the most minimal of fat consumption, it is time to set the record straight.
I am sure during your weekly shopping trips you are bombarded by the words “reduced fat” or “low fat” on food labels. However, this does not necessarily mean that these foods are any healthier/lower in caloric value than others, much like what has been covered in other blogs in regard to weight loss, it is important to understand the simple principle of caloric balance. Foods labelled low in fat are typically either a food that is already high in fat such as cheese or other dairy products, or they are foods in which calorie content from fat has been replaced by carbohydrates/ simple sugars, in which case the caloric content from the product has not altered, meaning it is no more beneficial in the venture to create caloric deficit from better food choices. Although in the case of foods already high in fat, reducing only the calorie content from fat may be beneficial in regard to finding a lower calorie option, be sure to check the label for this may mean the increase in calories from other macronutrients. Some foods are naturally high in fat and it would be unwise to reduce this, due to the content of various vitamins and minerals gained from the product, such as omega 3 from oily fish etc. Ensuring that your daily caloric intake from fat is primarily from unsaturated fat sources such as fish, avocado, nuts etc is a great way to make sure your getting the most from your daily fat intake.
The functions of fat in the body include:
- Give you energy
- Keep your body insulated
- Builds cells
- Protects your organs
- Helps your body absorb vitamins from foods
- Produce hormones
Saturated fat vs unsaturated fat
The difference between dietary fats lies in their chemical structure. All fats are made up of a chain of carbon atoms that are linked or bonded to hydrogen atoms. In saturated fats, the carbon atoms are totally covered, or “saturated,” with hydrogen atoms. This makes them solid at room temperature. In unsaturated fats, fewer hydrogen atoms are bound to carbon atoms. These fats are liquid at room temperature.
A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up your total cholesterol and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL (Low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which can lead to blockages in arteries in your heart and other parts of your body. LDL cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease. Therefore, it would be beneficial to replace any saturated fats with an unsaturated fat alternative as this will be less likely to increase LDL
Some sources of saturated fats include:
- Red meat
- Palm and coconut oils
These sources of food should be consumed in moderation in order to reduce the risk of cholesterol build up, as an alternative source to fat, one could include more unsaturated fat rich foods such as:
- Nuts/ seeds
- Olive, peanut oils
- Salmon and mackerel
In conclusion it is important to understand the importance of fat in our diet as opposed to demonizing it, it is important to enjoy our food and having small amounts of saturated fat is nothing to feel guilty about, fat intake as a whole should be monitored with care, regardless of the source as they are the most calorically dense macronutrient (9kcal per gram), making it easy for one to slip into a caloric surplus if being careless. Some tips for monitoring fat intake include:
- Always check foods labels when comparing reduced fat to normal
- It is sometimes best to tweak macronutrient intake to accommodate a higher fat option if this helps maintain sustainability
- Fat is your friend, be sure to understand that unsaturated fat is healthy and can provide a plethora of health benefits if sourced correctly.
By Tireoghain O’Neill