Browsing through the fitness and health articles currently trending online will have you read many contradicting information on what to eat, how to lose fat, which diet is the best for your health and if you keep reading you will probably end up more confused than when you started. I don’t blame you.
I consider myself a balanced eater so anything too restrictive is out of the question and luckily science is on my side. In this article, I’d like to help you understand more about dietary fats. Fat had been treated badly for decades. Now it seems that with the popularity of the ketogenic diet the table has turned, but I am not convinced that’s good for most of us either.
We will discuss what fats are, what their role is in your body and why you should stop thinking of fats as the devil if you’re still a religious low-fat believer. Equally, unless you are a high performing athlete who has specific goals and/or a desire to become as lean as possible, I am not sure the ketogenic diet is the best solution for you.
Claire, our resident sports nutritionist created a handout on the topic, below you’ll find the digital version. Feel free to pick a hard copy up when you are around the clinic next time.
Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet. In the body, fat provides structure for cells, insulation for nerves and padding for vital organs; in your diet, fat provides energy and enables the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Dietary fat (triglycerides) contains fatty acids and is divided into three categories: saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Foods contain a combination of these fatty acids, but in general sources high in saturated fats are solid at room temperature (like butter), whereas sources of unsaturated fats are liquid (like olive oil).
Typically, a diet higher in unsaturated fats is considered healthier than one high in saturated fats. Each gram of fat, regardless of their category, contains 9kcal – making fat more than twice as energy-dense as carbohydrates and protein (1g of these contain 4kcal).
- Sources of monounsaturated fats: olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, avocado
- Sources of polyunsaturated fats: oily fish, chia seeds, linseed, soybean oil, walnuts
- Sources of saturated fat: dairy, red meat, palm oil (included in many shelf-stable foods like biscuits, cakes and pastries), coconut products, cocoa and chocolate
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet. They are linoleic acid (LA), an “omega-6” or n-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an “omega-3” or n-3 fatty acid. These are both polyunsaturated fatty acids. The ratio between n-3 and n-6 fatty acid consumption is important for health.
Current Western diets, rich in processed oils and low in fish and seafood, tend to be high in n-6 fatty acids, so it is important to focus on including foods high in n-3 fatty acids like oily fish, linseed (flax) oil and chia seeds.
Although the body can use ALA to produce the n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, the conversion process is inefficient, so it is also recommended to consume adequate EPA and DHA
directly if possible. Oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, and fresh or frozen (not canned) tuna, are rich sources of these fatty acids. Two (140g) portions of fish per week, one of which is oily, are recommended for adults.
Guidelines and Sports Performance
- Guidelines on fat consumption vary widely across the world. Recommendations range from 20% to 35% of total energy (44-97g per day) intake.
- Saturated fat should comprise no more than 10% of total calorie intake, about 22-28g per day.
- Fat consumption has not been shown to enhance sports performance (except in “fat-adapted” athletes who follow a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet), and as it is slower to digest, should be avoided prior to training when carbohydrates and protein should be prioritised instead.
Does Eating Fat Make You Fat?
Simply eating fat does not make you fat. However, because fat contains significantly more energy than the other two macronutrients, and high-fat foods tend to be low in fibre, it is easy to eat more than your recommended daily food intake if your diet is high in fat.
If you are trying to limit your overall calorie intake, focus on getting enough protein and including a good source of fibre with each meal, and pick unsaturated fats and use it sparingly wherever you can.
If you feel your diet could use some input from a nutritionist or you’d just like to find out how your current eating habits align with your fitness goals, get in touch for a nutrition consultation.