The Straight Skinny on Dietary Fat - The Health and Fitness "F Word"

The Straight Skinny on Dietary Fat - The Health and Fitness "F Word"

Fat is a dirty word in the fitness world. Gyms across the world are full of hardworking individuals doing their best to eliminate as much of it as possible. The vast majority of people in the gym want to lose fat and lower their percentage of body fat so they can show off their muscles and abs once the fat is gone.

Fat, fat, fat; there is an obsession to eliminate fat at every opportunity. Fat is not something someone wants to see on him or herself; no one wants to be described as fat. Many of us want to build muscle; many want to gain strength, most would be happy to lose some fat in the process.

Related: Top 9 Reasons You Aren't Losing Fat

New fat loss diets appear frequently and there are countless workouts touted to be "the best workout for burning fat". Body fat is almost always seen as something to be lowered or removed and a lot of time and energy is spent in the pursuit to do so. In doing so the word fat has a negative connotation to it and rightly so when you consider not just the visual aspect, but also the multitude of health problems associated with excessive levels of body fat.

The macronutrient fat is often looked down upon as well due to the negative association with body fat. Fat, as a fuel for the human body, is an important and necessary part of the human diet. The simple act of eating fat does not cause your body to manufacture or increase body fat; eating fat does not mean that you will automatically experience health problems or heart disease.
Healthy HeartThe American Heart Association recommends that fat make up 25-35% of your daily caloric intake. Plain and simple - eating an excessive amount of calories in relation to your body?s requirements and expenditures cause your body to increase fat levels.

Low-fat diets that contain excessive calories will cause your body to create fat. Various types of diets, regardless of macronutrient preferences, will cause the body to manufacture fat if the calorie level exceeds what the body can use.

The human body requires dietary fat. Different types of fat are required for various functions. Vitamins A, D, E and K are called fat-soluble vitamins because they require fat to be absorbed and stored. Essential fatty acids, required by the human body for good health, are released after the digesting certain fats.

Not all fats are created equally. Some are healthier than others; one should be avoided, but most should be included in almost everyone?s nutritional strategies. Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats are all similar in chemical properties but all those involved in the fitness lifestyle should learn the differences between the various types of fats.

Not All Dietary Fats Are Created Equal

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats can help your blood cholesterol levels and reduce your chances of heart disease by reducing your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. [1] LDL is known as bad cholesterol because it can help plaque build-up to clog arteries, leading to atherosclerosis and peripheral artery diseases. Monounsaturated fats are easy to find and are a good substitute for those who are looking to lower saturated fat levels without eliminating fat from their diet.

Sources of monounsaturated fats include:
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Majority of nuts
  • Avocados
  • Sunflower oil

Polyunsaturated Fats

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats also improve your blood cholesterol level. They also lower your triglyceride levels and may lower your chances of developing type-2 diabetes.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of polyunsaturated fats are the inclusion of the essential fatty acids (EFA), commonly known as omega-3 and omegas-6 fatty acids. Our bodies can't synthesize these fatty acids but we require them for proper health. [2]

Proper brain function and cell growth require EFA's. These two EFA's are the only essential fatty acids and they are relatively easy to include in your nutritional plan. [3] Many metabolic processes require essential fatty acids and inadequate levels of EFA?s may contribute to osteoporosis and other diseases. [4]

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the chances of heart attacks by slowing plaque from accumulating in the arteries and slightly lowering blood pressure. [5]

Omega-6 fatty acids in both safflower and sunflower oils have shown promising results in lowering the chances of cardiovascular disease by helping to control blood sugar levels. [6] Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is required for the body to maintain the optional operation of the cerebral cortex, skin, brain, retina and other crucial aspects of the human body.

Elevated levels of DHA have been connected with lower chances of breast cancer. [7] Additionally, DHA is crucial for retinal stimulation and vital for the gray matter in your central nervous system. Gray matter is involved in hearing, seeing, muscle control, memory, speech, and many other important functions. [8]
Olive Oil

Sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids include:
  • Fish, including mackerel, trout, albacore tuna and salmon.
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flax seed
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp seeds

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats may be less healthy than mono and polyunsaturated fats but they are not a fat that must be completely avoided. The American Heart Association recommends that up to 7% of your daily calories come from saturated fats. [9]

Traditionally, saturated fats have been a fat associated with increased levels of bad cholesterol and heart disease. This may or may not be the case. Recent studies have shown that saturated fats may not be as harmful as previously thought, including one that found therein not conclusive evidence proving that Cardiovascular disease risks are increased by consuming dietary saturated fat. [10]

There are additional studies that confirm there is no conclusive evidence of cardiovascular disease but the most nutritionists will recommend that you limit your saturated fat intake and receive the majority of your fat calories from the unsaturated fats. [11,12] Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats when possible is a great way to reach your daily fat goals but don't eliminate saturated fats completely.

Saturated fats also influence testosterone levels and circulating androgens; testosterone levels are a topic of importance in the fitness world and no guy wants to do anything that will lower his levels.

Levels of both testosterone and androgens were increased when saturated fat was ingested in larger numbers and decreased when lower levels were consumed. [13] Testosterone levels dropped by 12% when low levels of saturated fat were ingested and the levels increased by 13% with higher levels of saturated fat intake.
ButterSources of saturated fats include:
  • Poultry with skin
  • Cream
  • Lard
  • Pork
  • Butter
  • Beef fat
  • Most animal fat
  • Cheese
  • Pizza
  • Trans fats
Trans fat is the fat that you want to avoid; the human body does not require them and they do not help the body in any way. [14] In 2015 the FDA set a three-year time limit for the removal of trans fat from processed foods and stated that they are not generally regarded as safe.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the main health risk connected with trans fat. [15] Trans fat has consistently been shown to be associated with increased risk of the world?s biggest cause of death, (CHD). [16] Bad cholesterol (LDL) levels are increased and good cholesterol (HDL) levels are reduced with trans fat ingestion. [17]

There is absolutely no reason to add or keep trans fat in your diet. It is estimated that close to 100,000 deaths a year in the United States may be attributed to trans fat ingestion. [18] Check the labels on your food to ensure that you are not eating trans fat in any amounts. Trans fat has already been eliminated from most products but be aware that trans fats are often used in the shortenings that restaurant use to deep fry food. [19]

Dietary fat is a necessary and important macronutrient that needs to be a part of everyone?s nutritional strategy. Learning the differences between various fats and how you can benefit from them will provide a more complete understanding of how to properly fuel yourself.

Include fat in your diet; utilize unsaturated fats but don't try to eliminate saturated fat completely. Most healthy sources of unsaturated fats contain some saturated fat. Personally, my favorite reason for including fat in my diet is a time-tested fact that can be summed up by one of my favorite quotes, "things that have fat in them taste way better than things that don't". [20]
1) "You Can Control Your Cholesterol: A Guide to Low-Cholesterol Living". Merck & Co. Inc.
2) Robert S. Goodhart and Maurice E. Shils (1980). Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Lea and Febinger. pp. 134?138. ISBN 0-8121-0645-8.
3) Whitney Ellie and Rolfes SR (2008). Understanding Nutrition (11th ed.). California: Thomson Wadsworth. p. 154.
4) Kruger MC, Horrobin DF (September 1997). "Calcium metabolism, osteoporosis and essential fatty acids: a review". Progress in Lipid Research 36 (2?3): 131?51. doi:10.1016/S0163-7827(97)00007-6. PMID 9624425.
5) National Institute of Health (August 1, 2005). "Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid".
6) Willett, Walter C (September 2007). "The role of dietary n-6 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease". Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine 8: S42?5. doi:10.2459/01.JCM.0000289275.72556.13
7) Pala, V.; Krogh, V; Muti, P; Chajès, V; Riboli, E; Micheli, A; Saadatian, M; Sieri, S; Berrino, F (July 2001). "Erythrocyte membrane fatty acids and subsequent breast cancer: a prospective Italian study". Journal of the National Cancer Institute 93 (14): 1088?95. doi:10.1093/jnci/93.14.1088. PMID 11459870.
8) Miller, A. K. H.; Alston, Corsellis (28 June 2008). "VARIATION WITH AGE IN THE VOLUMES OF GREY AND WHITE MATTER IN THE CEREBRAL HEMISPHERES OF MAN: MEASUREMENTS WITH AN IMAGE ANALYSER". Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology 6 (2): 119?132. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2990.1980.tb00283.x. PMID 7374914.
9) American Heart Association: Know Your Fats: 10/26/2015
10) Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Kraus RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:535?546. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725.
11) Bonthuis M, Hughes MCB, Ibiebele TI, Green AC, van der Pols JC (2010) Dairy consumption and patterns of mortality of Australian adults. Eur J Clin Nutr (Advance online publication)
12) Feinman, Richard D Lipids. 2010 October; 45(10): 891?892. Saturated Fat and Health: Recent Advances in ResearchPublished online 2010 September 9. doi: 10.1007/s11745-010-3446-8 PMCID: PMC2974200
13) Wang C, et al Low-fat high-fiber diet decreased serum and urine androgens in men . J Clin Endocrinol Metab. (2005)
14) Food and nutrition board, institute of medicine of the national academies (2005). Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients) 2005
15) Trans Fat Task Force (June 2006). "TRANSforming the Food Supply (Appendix 9iii)". Retrieved 9 January 2007. (Consultation on the health implications of alternatives to trans fatty acids: Summary of Responses from Experts)
16) "Mar 8 2014 FDA filing by HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH ? on the Tentative Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils; Request for Comments and for Scientific Data and Information". 2014
17) Food and nutrition board, institute of medicine of the national academies (2005). Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). National Academies Press. p. 504
18) Zaloga GP, Harvey KA, Stillwell W, Siddiqui R (2006). "Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease". Nutrition in Clinical Practice 21 (5): 505?512. doi:10.1177/0115426506021005505
19) NYC Board of Health. "Board of Health Approves Regulation to Phase Out Artificial Trans Fat: FAQ"
20) Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe): Parks and Recreation: NBC
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