For those of us over 35, we should remember the 80’s. Or rather, what happened in the 80’s. Times have changed, but in the 80’s began the revolution of Fats. Fats were labeled as bad, universally, by the medical community. We were told that to lose weight and prevent heart disease we needed to strip away the Fat from our diet. Then, we stopped buying fatty foods and swapped for Fat-Free varieties. We went from Butter or Lard to ‘I can’t believe they call this stuff a butter substitute!’
We once ate food rich in fat which provided flavor and satiety, and slowly the food industry started using sugar to add flavor. Now we have high fructose corn syrup filled desserts and sodas rather than a regular piece of cake. Subsequently, obesity increased (According to studies by Lancet) nearly two-fold since 1980. This brings us to a fact, fat is not bad. The medical community was wrong. Popular opinion is not always right.
Calorie Count: Fats have 9 calories per gram.
Saturated or Non-Saturated
Due to the incorrect information or false information promoted by the medical community in the 80’s and large food manufacturers since the 1980’s, people are rightfully confused. We will start with the basics. Every type of fat is either Saturated or Non-Saturated. Saturated Fats are Fats which are solid at room temperature. This is sometimes known as solid fat. When you see fat in Meat (Fish, Red Meat, etc.), Dairy (Cheese, Milk) or Tropical Oils (Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter) you are looking at Saturated Fat. These are the type of foods with Saturated fats you want to eat.
Saturated Fats are also in foods like Butter, Margarine, and Desserts (Cookies, Cake). Since these foods are nearly all fat, they have a high concentration of calories (Remember, by weight, Fat is the densest Macronutrient calorie wise).
Naturally, Non-Saturated Fats are fats that are liquid at room temperature. When people consider Fats ‘Good or Bad’ they normally run the line directly between Saturated and Non-Saturated Fats. Non-Saturated Fats are commonly found in plants. But we will get to that later.
What about Trans Fats?
Trans Fats are Saturated Fats. But they are not natural. Most people know they are not natural and know they are deemed ‘Bad’ by Doctors. But what makes them so bad? Trans Fats are Fats which go through the hydrogenation process. This process is the act of making Fats more solid. Making Fats more solid will greatly extend the shelf life of Fats and make them harder.
Think of it this way, those pre packaged butter flavored crackers you love? If you made them yourself they would be soggy after you added butter. With hydrogenation, the cracker will stay crispy while having all the flavor you want. Plus, your crackers can last for months before going bad. Or in the case of Twinkies, they may never go bad.
Anything processed to extend shelf life will contain Trans Fats. Cookies, Chips, and most snacks have Trans Fats. Margarine, or man-made butter, can be composed of Trans Fats. Trans Fats are the opposite of popular diets like Paleo. This is not natural and proven to raise cholesterol. This does not mean you need to cut all Trans Fats out, but it is a synthetic Fat which was designed for profit, not health.
So, what about Unsaturated Fats?
Unsaturated Fats are Non-Saturated Fats. Let me clear that up right away. Unsaturated Fats are Fats which are liquid at room temperature, as opposed to solid like Saturated and Trans Fats. Unsaturated Fats commonly divide into Monounsaturated Fats and Polyunsaturated Fats.
Monounsaturated are Fats whom molecules contain only one unsaturated carbon bond in its molecule. Monounsaturated Fats are also shown to lower bad cholesterol. They also help the transportation of nutrients to your cells as well as provide Vitamin E, an essential antioxidant. Monounsaturated Fats are found in oils such as Olive Oil, Canola Oil and Peanut Oil. As well as Nuts and Avocado. When you think healthy fats, you are most often thinking of Monounsaturated Fat.
Then you have Polyunsaturated Fat, which are Unsaturated Fats with more than one unsaturated carbon bond. Polyunsaturated Fats are commonly known as Fish, Nuts, and Oils. Think Salmon, Walnuts, and Corn Oil. Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids are both Polyunsaturated Fats. This brings us to a crucial point.
Essential Fatty Acids
Much like Essential Amino Acids, your body can not produce all the required Fatty Acids. The two Essential Fatty Acids are LA (Linoleic Acid) and ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid). These two Fatty Acids must be attained through diet or dietary supplement. A deficiency of LA is evident with severe malabsorption problems such as poor growth in children, and poor immune function. ALA deficiency is rare, but have symptoms of visual problems and nerve abnormalities.
This brings us back to the Omega Fatty Acids. These are touted as some of the best supplements you can buy for your overall health, especially Brain and Heart health. This may be true, but you do not need to eat a huge fish oil pill to get these Omega Fatty Acids. The condensed version is cooking oils, nuts, fish, and seeds are mainly Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids.
But we can make it even more simplistic. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are derived from ALA. Omega 6 Fatty Acids are attained from LA. By eating food with ALA or LA, or eating food with Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids, you are consuming all the Essential Fatty Acids your body needs.
Do I need Fats?
Fats, and specifically Fatty Acids are the main component of your cell membranes. They are also chemical regulators which help with inflammation, blood clotting, and blood vessel regulation. Fats also are the main carrier for most vitamins and minerals. Many over the counter vitamins are Fat Soluble. This means they can only be transported through your body when you have Fat. If you do not have enough Fats, your body will be deficient in vitamins and minerals.
Fats also promote brain health. Some Fats are essential. Like Essential Amino Acids, your body requires you to consume ALA and LA from an outside source. The rest of your bodies Fat requirements can be met with the fat your body already contains.
Does Fat make me Fat?
It can do the opposite, as Fat has a high satiety level. This means it keeps you feeling full longer. When you eat too much Fat, just like Protein and Carbohydrates, the excess is stored as body fat. Luckily, your body can and will use Fat as a fuel source. Your body prefers carbohydrates as a fuel source. This means your glycogen and carbohydrate intake will be burned first. If your body requires more energy than you supply it through food, it will use Fat as fuel. The process of your body converting from using carbohydrates to Fat as a fuel source is known as Ketosis.
For a basic understanding of using Fat as a fuel source (Which is essential for losing weight or Fat) is that you need to burn more calories than you consume. You also need sufficient Essential Fatty Acids and Essential Amino Acids to maintain Heart and Brain health. Once you meet those requirements, your body will consume what you eat as fuel. When you burn more calories than calories you consume, your body then will burn the next available fuel source. Which would be Fat. Your body converts all excess calories into Fat and is your body’s back up fuel source.
Fat can make you equally as overweight as Protein or Carbohydrates. Cutting out Fat or only eating Fat does not have a magical property making it special. Some people do better with a high fat or a low-fat diet. But this is individual dependent.
So that means I need to eat Fat?
Absolutely. You need Fat and Protein to perform basic bodily functions. Fat protects your cells, helps bodily functions, promotes Brain and Heart health, and helps your body absorb nutrients. It helps with recovery from inflammation and promotes a strong immune system. The right Fats will promote skin health and lower your risk for multiple Heart diseases.
This is where things revert to the simplistic notion of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Fats. You need Fat in your diet. ‘Good Fat’ or Omega 3 Fatty Acids., Omega 6 Fatty Acids, and in general Unsaturated Fats, will help lower Heart disease, promote Heart health, and promote overall health. While ‘Bad Fats’, or Trans Fats, will increase the risk of Heart disease and other health ailments.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.