For the next 10 minutes, I want you to forget everything you heard about fats and lipids. All the nonsense about them being bad for you or all the opinions you have heard that you should consume them in excess.
For the rest of this article, I need you to have a fresh perspective on what fats and lipids really are and how they function in the body.
For the purpose of this article, I will take the same approach as I do to all sources of nutrition – consult the research. Everything we talk about here will be sourced with peer-reviewed literature, but it is important to understand that science is always changing.
With that said, let’s get into everything you need to know about fats.
What Are Fats?
When people think of fat or lipids they immediately think of the greasy food they ate last night or the gut that uncle Jim has – when in fact, fats shouldn’t always be correlated to weight gain.
One the most basic level, fat in your body is merely an accumulation of stored energy.
In food, fats come in various forms (saturated, unsaturated, trans) but in the body, they are mainly used to synthesize vitamins and minerals and are heavily stored – for the protection of vital organs, and energy needs.
The human body has adapted over millions of years to store both fats and carbohydrates (the main fuel sources for human movement) for the dire case that it is in a state of starvation.
Yes, I am saying that the fat on your body is stored fuel – because it literally is.
On the other hand, fats we consume on a daily basis have a different role in the body. It is not necessarily as simple as saying that you shouldn’t consume fat – some are completely essential to your total health (well talk more about this later).
Take a moment to think about these important ideas surrounding fats:
Fats are an Essential Macronutrient
You have probably heard this word before. A macronutrient is a term for any type of calories you need to consume in large amounts.
Proteins, fats and carbohydrates should make up the bulk of your diet – and although most dieticians will agree that carbs should be the biggest position – the fat will always have a place on your plate.
Fats are A Great Source of Fuel
There truly is no greater fuel source than fats. In fact, fats have more than 2x the number of calories of both carbs and proteins.
Rated at 9kcal/ per gram, eating a diet high in fat will help to provide an excessive amount of calories for fuel.
This means you don’t need to eat a large quantity of fat in order to receive the needed amount of total calories – perhaps this is the reason many people get into issues with weight gain.
Heres an example…
Rice will contain about 130 calories per 100g.
On the other hand, 100g of peanuts will contain around 550 calories.
This is about 4x the number of calories for the same quantity of food.
Understand, calories are not necessarily bad, but they do need to be watched and taken under your control – especially if you are concerned about weight loss.
This makes fats one of the best sources of fuel per gram. Consuming a diet high in fat is going to also be high in calories and very dense in nutrient profile. This brings us to our next point – uses in the body.
Fats Role In The Body
This is where things can get a little complicated. Some fats your body can actually create on its own. These are known as essential fatty acids.
In fact, Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids act as messengers for proteins – allowing them to do their jobs correctly. They can also help to balance hormone levels, start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism – and the body creates them all on its own.
The entire process of creating, breaking down and utilizing fat is a cycle of human evolution at its finest.
Unfortunately, this cycle can become broken due to dietary habits.
For example – too much cholesterol in the body has strong correlations to heart disease – our leading killer. Perhaps we, as a species, are eating far too much fat?
In my opinion, some people are eating too much fat, but more likely than the quantity of fat is the type of fat we are consuming.
Let’s first delve into the various types of fat to help you understand which ones are best for your health.
Types of Fat
There are many types of fat but we are only going to talk about the most important to your overall health. The two big ones that you already know are called saturated and unsaturated.
While one is solid at room temperature, the other is a liquid – this is better known as saturated and unsaturated fats.
These guys have really been given a bad rep over the years – but in many cases, it is justified. Countless years of research shows that a diet higher in saturated fats has a stronger correlation to heart disease and other blood issues than a diet that favours unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats have notoriously high cholesterol levels and considering the body can create cholesterol on its own – it might not be a good idea to eat these in excess.
Saturated fats are generally found in foods such as red meats, and dairy products.
Omega Fatty Acids
The first “good” guy on our list is the omega group.
Remember how we talked about how the body can synthesize some fatty acids but not all…two essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food.
These basic fats, found in plant foods, are used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
You will find these in foods such as fish, flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts and other plant sources.
Interestingly, omega fatty acids help to improve cell walls, oxygen intake and can even improve circulation.
The “good” guys, although this does not mean that you should start consuming unsaturated fats in excess.
Everything should be consumed in moderation and you should always look to complete sources of fuel for wholesome nutrition.
Unsaturated fats have actually been shown to lower cholesterol and should be the basis for your calories when you are looking for healthy sources of fat.
Unsaturated fats are generally found in foods such as fish, nuts, seeds, and whole plant-foods.
By far the worst source of dietary fat. Trans fats are a type of fat that have been created chemically to help preserve foods.
You will find these in baked products, processed meats and other foods that have longer-than-normal shelf lives.
These are a source of fat that you will want to avoid at all costs as they have been shown on many occasions to increase the risk of heart disease and other fatal conditions.
How Much Should You Consume (Quantity vs. Quality)
Now that you understand the difference between the main sources of fat let’s break down how much you should actually be consuming in a day.
Assuming you follow a traditional macronutrient breakdown I would suggest you go for a 50/35/15 split.
That is 50% carbohydrates, 35% protein and 15% fats.
This split will be heavily dependant on your style of training and your ethnic origin but the average person will benefit from this split.
Just to give you some perspective if you are the average person who consumes a 2000 calorie diet this would mean you are consuming around 300 calories (per day) from fat.
Going back to our original breakdown of peanuts, this means you would consume around 50g of peanuts per day (that’s about a handful).
Why so little?
There are a couple of reasons why fat intake can be as low as 15%…
1. Your body creates essential fatty acids on its own
2. Fats are easily stored in the body
3. Carbs will provide the bulk of your metabolic energy (especially if you exercise)
4. Quality over quantity (fats are high in calories, you don’t need to eat many)
5. High-fat diets have strong correlations to obesity and obesity-caused illnesses
Things To Consider Before Changing Your Fat Intake
Most people consume way more fat than is recommended. With that said, most people do not track their caloric consumption or macro breakdown.
I am going to assume that since you’re reading this article, on a fitness website – you understand some concepts of strength as it relates to dietary intake.
Carbs Fuel Performance
Carbohydrates are the lifeblood of performance in the gym.
Any power or strength athlete will know that everything regarding high-powered exercise revolves around your intake of glycogen-rich foods (complex carbs).
This means fats are secondary in terms of fuel for athletic performance.
Fats Provide Balance
I would never go below 15%. There is a certain amount of everything that you need and since fats do help with many things like balancing hormone levels, starting chemical reactions that help control growth, assist in immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism – they need to be in your diet.
So… What Fats Should You Eat?
This is a question I get very often. Considering fat is the smallest portion of your diet you do want to ensure that the fats you consume are readily accessible fuel and they provide you with the essential vitamins and minerals important for balance and growth.
In my mind and the opinion of leading health professionals, nothing beats the fat you get from whole nuts and seeds.
Not only will they provide a very good source of dietary fat, but the balance is always near-perfect.
Yes, most nuts and seeds will contain saturated fats but they contain a much higher amount of unsaturated fats, healthy dietary fibre and some will even provide a good amount of omega fatty acids.
The king of all fats will come from flaxseeds or the seeds found in winter squash. Although they are not especially tasty, they come ground up and are an easy addition to any food or morning protein shake.
Leave a comment below with your favourite source of fat or how much dietary fat you have found to be most beneficial for your strength and vitality.