For the most part, we all know carrying around excess body weight in the form of fat is going to put extra stress and strain on our system–even more so if that weight tends to be carried in the midsection where vital organs reside. If you are an athlete you also know this could affect your performance within your given sport. Even if you’re not an athlete training for a specific event, we all know we need to be mindful of how much fat our body is carrying around. BUT, this does NOT mean you’re to immediately eliminate all the fats from your plate, pantry, and refrigerator. Your body needs a bit of fat to function. Period. So, shall we dive in and learn a bit more about what fats are and how fat can actually be good for you body???
What exactly are fats? Lipids aka fats are a rich source of energy (9kcal/gram) and aid in the absorption of your fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. Fats consist mainly of “triglycerides”–which are primarily comprised of glycerol and three fatty acids. (The fatty acids are chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms–14-22 in length.) Each of these fatty acids is then classified further based on their chemical structure as being saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, or polyunsaturated fat.
Saturated Fats are “fully saturated with the maximum amount of hydrogen…” and are “hard at room temperature” (The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition–Bean). Examples of these would include fat from animal products–butter, lard, cheese, and meat fat. Additionally, saturated fats can also come from processed foods–cakes, cookies, and pastries. Coconut oil and palm oil are also higher in saturated fat.
Monounsaturated Fats have a little less hydrogen and usually remain in a liquid state at room temperature, however, will solidify at a cold temperature. They’re thought to offer the greatest of health benefits as they’ve been reported to reduce LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the type of cholesterol we don’t want building up within our bodies) without affecting HDL (high density lipoprotein–the type we do want to have as it helps the liver remove other types of cholesterol from the blood) cholesterol. Examples of these would include olive, almond, and rapeseed oils, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated Fats have the least amount of hydrogen and will remain liquid at room and cold temperatures. While these fats can also lower LDL and lower the potential risk for heart disease, they can also lower HDL. Examples of these would include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds and some oily fish.
We now know the three main classifications of fat, but did you also know there are essential fatty acids? Essential fatty acids are mandatory for growth, recovery, and overall health because they cannot be produced by the body and must come from external sources. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are responsible for quite a bit within the body such as: helping to reduce lactic acid build up which then aids the recovery of sore muscles; helps the formation of healthy hair, skin, and the healing of wounds; and are found within each cell of the body. These are just a few of the tasks essential fatty acids tackle within the body–so you could say, the essential fatty acid is kind of a big deal. Examples of EFA Omega-3 are walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, edamame, and kidney beans.
Let us recap, shall we?
- Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function.
- Fat provides the protection to vital organs and bones, as well as, insulation.
- Fat helps to digest and absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Ensure you’re consuming quality fat sources rich in essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6.
- Be mindful of consuming too many saturated fats as they’ve been known to cause cardiac issues such as heart disease and some cancers.
- 35% or less of total consumed calories should come from fat. (I know this could be bit of a feather ruffling statement. This is a recommendation from the RDA (recommended daily allowance). I am aware individuals practicing a true Ketogenic or Paleo lifestyle will consume substantially more than 35%. I simply would recommend to those contemplating a “Keto” or “Paleo” lifestyle, please consult with your physician prior to beginning to ensure your body is able to handle the higher intake of fats–especially if you or your family have a history of heart disease or certain cancers. Remember, there are many ways to follow a healthy lifestyle, but not all ways are healthy for all people.)
Just like carbs, fat has a purpose within our bodies. It’s when we begin providing our body with too much of a good thing, our body begins to save the “extra” for a rainy day. So, fat isn’t “bad” and it’s not out to get you and it too is not of the devil. Go out today, say yes to the avocado (yes, Chipotle we know it costs extra) and enjoy!
Until next time…