Nutrition Series - All you need to know about Fat
So today we are going to start with one of the most talked about, but least understood Marconutrients.
You don’t get fat by eating fat. You get fat by not eating fat. So get some fat.
Ok, that might sound a little confusing.
So in this article I will cover the wonderful macronutrient (macro) that is fat. In this article I will give a brief explanation to what fat is, good sources of healthy fats and when you need them in your diet. I will also cover when is best to include fat in your diet and the benefits that you can gain from doing so.
As with my other articles on macros (see previous blogs), this will be a basic look at what fat can do for you. I say basic because the uses, benefits and drawbacks of fat go well beyond the scope of this article. If you have any more questions on any macro nutrients that a Google search doesn’t answer, please drop me a message via my website and I will be happy to help.
Firstly, what is fat? Fat is defined as,
“Fat is one of the three main macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Fats are a wide group of compounds whose basis is in long-chain organic acids, called fatty acids. More particularly fats are esters of such organic acids formed with the alcohol glycerol. Glycerol is a triol, meaning that it has three chemically active -OH (hydroxyl) groups. Fats are made when each of these three -OH groups reacts with a fatty acid. The resulting fats are called triglycerides. Because of their preponderant aliphatic structure, fats are hydrophobic, generally soluble in organic solvents but generally insoluble in water. Fats made up of shorter chain fatty acids are usually liquid at room temperature, whereas the longer chain fats will be solid.
Fat is important foodstuff for many forms of life, and fats serve both structural and metabolic functions. They are necessary part of the diet of most heterotrophs (including humans). Some fatty acids that are set free by the digestion of fats are called essential because they cannot be synthesized in the body from simpler constituents. There are two essential fatty acids (EFAs) in human nutrition: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Other lipids needed by the body can be synthesized from these and other fats. Fats and other lipids are broken down in the body by enzymes called lipases produced in the pancreas.
Fats and oils are categorized according to the number and bonding of the carbon atoms in the aliphatic chain. Fats that are saturated fats have no double bonds between the carbons in the chain. Unsaturated fats have one or more double bonded carbons in the chain. The nomenclature is based on the non-acid (non-carbonyl) end of the chain. This end is called the omega end or the n-end. Thus alpha-linolenic acid is called an omega-3 fatty acid because the 3rd carbon from that end is the first double bonded carbon in the chain counting from that end. Some oils and fats have multiple double bonds and are therefore called polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be further divided into cis fats, which are the most common in nature, and trans fats, which are rare in nature. Unsaturated fats can be altered by reaction with hydrogen effected by a catalyst. This action, called hydrogenation, tends to break all the double bonds and makes a fully saturated fat. To make vegetable shortening, then, liquid cis-unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils are hydrogenated to produce saturated fats, which have more desirable physical properties e.g., they melt at a desirable temperature (30–40 °C), and store well, whereas polyunsaturated oils go rancid when they react with oxygen in the air. However, trans fats are generated during hydrogenation as contaminants created by an unwanted side reaction on the catalyst during partial hydrogenation. Consumption of such trans fats has shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease”.
Fat still has a bit of a bad reputation thanks to a load of bad propaganda back in the 80’s. This was of course taken on board by the generations at the time (your parents and grandparents) and then they passed it onto you. The fear of fat is still very present in most people. I would best that most of you are still buying ‘low fat’ items and staying away from butter. So why is this the case?
This was down to a couple of factors,
- Research at the time indicated that saturated fat was a major contributing factor to heart disease. We now know that this isn’t the case and that some saturated fat in your diet is actually really good for you (I’ll get to the benefits of fat in a minute).
- Out of all of the macro nutrients fat is the highest in calories per gram. Where as carbohydrates and Protein are just 4 calories per gram, fat is 9 calories per gram! This made people stay clear of fat as it was assumed that more calories equalled more fat gain (more fat means an increased chance of developing and number of diseases and health issues). While we know that fat is indeed the highest in calories per gram, which does not mean that it is bad for your health. Fat is essential for a balanced diet and for becoming (and staying) lean.
Now any Nutritional Coach worth their salt will tell you that having a very low fat diet is a pretty bad idea, especially if you are doing it for a ling period of time. Having fat in your diet does all sorts of wonderful and amazing things. SO much so, that many diets have been made off the back of it (such as the Anabolic and fat Loading Diet), however that is an article for another day. There are absolutely tons of reasons why you should have fat in your diet. This includes (but isn’t limited to),
- Fat is filling. Anyone on any type of diet will tell you that being hungry is no fun. Fat gives you a fuller feeling for longer, due to how slow it is digested.
- Foods higher in fat generally contain more Omega 3s. I have spoken about Omega 3s in the past as they do all sorts of amazing things from helping lower Cholesterol, support thyroid function (better metabolism) to supporting joints.
- Helps increase reproductive health (by improving testosterone production).
- Better Brain function due to more DHA being in your system. Better Brain equals better thinking. Better thinking means better BJJ.
- Many Vitamins essential for good health (like A , D and K) are fat soluable. This means that they need fat to be optimally digested and absorbed.
- Coffee is also fat soluble so if you want a good kick from your morning brew, have it with eggs.
- Reduces Cancer risk
- Reduces Inflammation in the body
- Boosts Immune system.
- Better eye and skin health.
Sounds pretty good! So what do you want to be eating in order to get all of these wonderful benefits? Here are some of my favourite sources,
- Red meat such as beef and lamb.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Palm Oil
- Fatty Fish like Salmon and Tuna
- Exotic meats like Bison
- Nut butters
- Olives (if you like them).
There are a lot more sources out there but these are just some of the most popular ones. Try to get ‘grass fed’ when it comes to meat and ‘Free range ‘ when it comes to eggs. This means that the animals have been allowed to roam and eat their natural food. This leads to a better nutrient profile, which leads to you getting more nutrients from your food.
It’s all well and good knowing what to eat, but when do you eat it? Fat is a pretty versatile macro and is great in any meal (especially meals where you want to be fuller for longer). There are two good times during the day where it is a great idea to eat some fat. The first is when you wake up. I like to keep carbs out of the first couple of meals with clients as this helps keep them a bit leaner (and works even better if they are trying to lose body fat). The second is just before bed. A high fat meal then will help you sleep and will aid in the production of healing and recovery hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone.
However there is one time where you want to stay away from fat and that is around training.
I have talked a lot in the past about workout Nutrition and what you should be eating at this time, but I have never talked about what not to eat. Eating fat around training will completely change how your body handles nutrients at that time. If you are using some form of workout Nutrition (and I highly suggest you do) then eating fat at this time will slow down or halt the release of nutrients. While this is fine at other times of the day, before, during and after training is when we want fast digesting foods. We want the nutrients that you are taking in to leave your stomach as fast as possible so that they can be soaked up by your muscles. For this reason, you should stay away from fat at this time.
Fats are a fantastic macro and should be a focus in any nutrition plan where health and performance are a priority (so everyone reading this). If you are looking to lean up then I really do suggest taking a closer look at a higher fat diet. While a high fat diet can be brilliant in leaning you up, it is possible that athletic performance can suffer without the presence of carbs. In the next instalment I will discuss carbs and how you can make them work for you, instead of against you!