Know Your Fats

Fats, (sometimes referred to as lipids) have sparked much controversy over the years with some claiming it’s the root cause for cardio vascular disease and others claiming higher fat diets are superior for fat loss… confusing right?

Each gram of fat contains 9kcals of energy.

So, in comparison to protein (4kcal) and carbohydrates (4kcal) fat is more energy dense when we are comparing gram for gram.

But let’s take a closer look at what we use fat for:

The value of fat:

  • Provides energy
  • Aiding in the absorption and use of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.
  • Making up fatty tissues such as the eyes, the brain and the cell membrane
  • Making signalling and inflammation-regulating molecules such as prostaglandis.
  • Making steroid hormones, which include: Sex hormones (e.g, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone etc)
  • Glucocorticoids such as cortisol, which are part of the immune response.

So, you can see it has a pretty important role in the body.

Types of fat:

There are three main types of fat:

Saturated:Because of their chemical configuration, “saturated” with hydrogens, they pack tightly together which is why they are solid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated:Have one double bond between the carbons which causes the chain to “kink” causing them to be liquid at room temperature.

Polyunsaturated:Have more than one double bond and are significantly kinked. This will remain liquid even at freezing temperatures.

image rights, Precision Nutrition

The molecule structure of fat is important to how each will be absorbed and used within the body (not what will be covered in this article).

Omega 3 fatty acids:

The most important Omega 3 fats are the following:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

ALA is found in plant-based foods (eg, flax, hemp, chia) but our bodies don’t convert ALA very well – Our best source of Omega 3 comes from DHA & EPA which is found in marine animal (i.e. fish) and algae…

Which is why using fish oil as a supplement could be worthwhile.

Top tip:  When you’re searching for fish oils, you’re looking for the DHA & EPA dosage. A good fish oil will contain around 500+mg (combined DHA & EPA) per 1000mg of fish oil.

Many supplement companies promote fish oils, but most are of very poor quality. A well-known national brand in particular, [Bolland & Harret] use the marketing tactic “1000mg of fish oil” but the combined DHA & EPA is exceptionally low. 

“Healthy” and “unhealthy” fats:

The term of what is classified as “healthy” and “unhealthy” fat is probably very misleading as we need a good balance of each for optimal health.

The main issue lies within the western diet as it has fast become an industry of heavily processed food. Due to the processing methods and the preservation (shelf life) of modern foods – most of which have been engineered and are commonly known as trans fat or hydronated fattake a similar molecular structure as saturated fat and are heavily criticised for their health implications. 

Another thing to consider is due to our modern way, especially cooking (think fast food), we are consuming a higher amount of Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids can be used to make pro-inflammatory compounds, which in large amounts can be problematic for health.

In an ideal world we would consider an equal balance of Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) and Omega 6 (pro-inflammatory) to obtain the benefits from each.

We evolved with an Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio of 1:1 but our modern way shows more 1:20.       

Where can we find our fats?

Saturated:

  • Animal fats
  • tropical oils such as coconut, palm and cacao

Monounsaturated:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Peanuts and groundnuts

Polyunsaturated:

  • Omega 3 (fish oil, flax & chia etc)
  • Omega 6 (most seed oils e.g. canola, sunflower, sesame oil etc)

Obtaining an ideal ratio would be difficult and really unnecessary but being aware of variety of each throughout your diet is a necessity.

Considerations:

  • Dietary fats are necessary to be healthy, to recover and to perform well.
  • Consume a variety of foods that contain fat.
  • Make your diet mostly naturally occurring fats and less processed.
  • Fat is energy dense, so it can be advantageous for two reasons:
  • Lose weight: Reducing the amount of daily intake is a simple way to reduce overall calories.
    • Gaining weight: Incorporating more fats in to your diet is a simple way to start increasing your overall calories. 

My final thoughts:

First and foremost, we must consider energy balance. Your diet could be full of naturally occurring healthy fats but if you are dramatically overeating it will unquestionably cause health implications.

For example, if there is no control over energy consumption and you decide to take a fish oil to “balance out” your Omega ratios you’re simply adding to the problem.

On the flip side you may have energy balance under control but have a diet heavy on processed foods. By switching (not adding) to more naturally occurring sources will improve your overall health and energy levels. 

If you have any questions, please drop me an email at keir@liftgym.co.uk

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