We’re into the second week of a brand new year, and with any luck, you’re still raring to go, brimming with enthusiasm!
Today, I’m going to talk to you a bit about healthy fats vs. unhealthy fats, since there’s a lot of confusion over what these terms actually mean. When it comes to getting fit and building muscle, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on protein and carbs – but not necessarily on fats.
In truth, fats form an essential part of our diet, and skimping on them could hinder your progress – not to mention your health.
Without further ado, let’s separate fat from fiction (sorry, that’s awful!).
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that the whole low-fat ideology is by large, completely outdated. There’s never been any tangible evidence linking dietary fat to heart disease, weight gain or related issues. The biggest culprit is believed to be refined carbohydrates – including sugar; high intakes are associated with appetite fluctuations/cravings, raised blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and in extreme cases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The problem is that most high-carb foods also contain a high quantity of fat, and/or are usually eaten with fatty foods. Cakes, biscuits, crisps, pasta, chips, desserts and chocolate (the list goes on) all fall into this category. Sadly, as I’ve quoted in a past blog, the butter is usually blamed for what the bread did. Think about this logically: it’s really easy to spread butter on bread and go back for more, but has anyone ever been compelled to grab a spoon and demolish a block of butter on its lonesome? I doubt that very much. Despite this, fat is usually deemed ‘public enemy number one’.
Weight (fat) gain occurs when calorie intake is high – regardless of whether the source is from carbs, protein or fat. That being said, it’s not quite that simple. Both protein and fat tend to have a more stable effect on blood glucose and appetite, whereas the opposite is usually the case for carbs. Thus, a useful weight management strategy is to eat more fat and fewer carbs, with adequate protein to carry out its muscle-building role. This can be summed up with the following phrase: fat increases your FIT, not your FAT!
Are we saturated with saturated fat claims?
Saturated fat receives a lot of bad press, and it’s been that way for years. Again, it’s largely due to the misconception that it ‘clogs up arteries’, causing atherosclerosis – a claim that is not grounded in accurate scientific research. Here’s something else that’s misleading: when you see a label on food stating ‘a source of polyunsaturated fat’ (for example), that doesn’t mean it’s the only type of fat it contains.
Generally, all naturally fatty foods are made-up of saturated, poly and monounsaturated fats in varying proportions. That means that olive oil will also contain a degree of saturated fat, and that steak on your plate will too, deliver mono and polyunsaturated fats.
It’s not just animal fats that contain saturates, either – coconut oil is comprised of mostly saturates (MCTs), along with mono and polyunsaturates. Of course, I’m not downgrading the latter – I’m simply highlighting that saturated fat can’t (and shouldn’t) be singled out.
Furthermore, we actually need saturated fat in our diet – it helps to maintain cell membrane integrity and assist the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Paradoxically, it’s even been linked to lowered cholesterol levels and fat-burning. Yes – you read that correctly!
It’s important to remember that in order to reap any of the above benefits, a healthy lifestyle needs to be at the forefront. If an inactive person who smokes, drinks and eats a poor diet were to suddenly introduce butter into the equation, it would likely do more harm than good by providing surplus calories.
Mix it up
Since many fats work in ratio, a high intake of one sub-group can undermine the other. Because this concept can be a little complex, coupled with the fact that we’re all individuals with unique requirements, it’s best to include a variety of fats from the following sources:
- Red meat and poultry – especially grass-fed varieties which are thought to deliver high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Full-fat dairy, including butter
- Oily fish g. salmon, trout, mackerel (or a take a fish oil supplements)
- Nuts, seeds (and their butters)
- Coconut, olive and walnut oils
In addition to the above, fats also play important roles in:
- Energy metabolism
- Joint and tendon health
- Brain and nerve function
- Cardiovascular protection
- The synthesis of hormones – including testosterone, which is essential to muscle protein synthesis
- Mood and sleep regulation
- The ‘cushioning’ of vital organs/control of body temperature
- Replacing carbs as a satisfying energy source on fat-loss plans
- Giving your food flavour and ‘mouth-feel’ – this is an important one!
Try including nuts and seeds with breakfast (or snack on them); slice up an avocado with your chicken at lunch time; eat oily fish, and add melted coconut oil to your smoothies and shakes. The point is, don’t skimp on fat – it’s vital to your health, well-being and your goal accomplishment. Fat phobia isn’t serving you!
You know the good, so now for the bad and the ugly!
Bad fats do exist, yes. They’re referred to as trans fats –a definition you’ve probably come across before. There are two types of trans fats: those which occur naturally (in red meat and dairy products), and those which do not. It’s the latter that should come with a health warning.
Essentially, trans fats have a chemical structure which has been vastly altered by high temperatures or other processing techniques, e.g. hydrogenation. This is a fancy way of saying ‘this thing here doesn’t function as we want it to, so we’ll mess around with it until it does’. Margarine is a prime example of such – this is the end result of making liquid vegetable fats solid at room temperature, for commercial purposes. It’s icky, and I’d avoid it like the plague, if I were you!
Pastries, along cooking oil that has been used over and over are also likely to be high in trans fats, due to the high temperatures they’ve been exposed to. Just say ‘No’, kids! Instead, use unprocessed, cold-pressed oils for cooking where possible, such as coconut oil (or as mentioned earlier, butter).
Essentially, it’s best to opt for natural, minimally processed sources of fat.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it comes from a plant, or once ate plants, it’s good. If it was made in a plant, it isn’t.
Until next time,