Struggling to lose weight? You may think of fat as the enemy. While it’s true that your body stores unused energy in the form of fat causing weight gain, consuming certain fats may not be as bad as you think. Here are 10 important things you need to know about fat.
Should I Eat Less Fats?
I remember when I first began to work on weight loss. OK, really, that’s been a struggle for my whole life, but in 1994, just after my daughter was born, I weighed in at a whopping 296, and something had to be done. I remember crying after she was born for two weeks solid (yes, it was fueled by the hormones, too) because although I had always struggled with my weight, I had also always sported an hourglass figure, and post baby, that was GONE.
At the time, fat was a four-letter word, a dirty word when it comes to nutrition, fitness, and exercise. It was a time when the food industry marketed everything as “low-fat” in the guise that it was a healthier option. I bought myself a book called “The Fat Book”, which contained in it every conceivable food, including how it was prepared (find chicken breast–fried, broiled, baked, with skin, without skin). It listed how many calories and how many fat grams. I began listing out my food on paper daily, and counting up those fat grams religiously. I was on to something–or was I?
The paradigm has now shifted. We now understand that collagen in your diet is important, and that’s contained in things like the skin on a chicken breast, connective tissue like tendon, bone broth, wild salmon, and eggs. We also understand that your brain needs fat to function, and we know that too low fat means added sugar for added flavor, and that equals a problem for your blood sugar stasis. So below, I’ve listed 10 things to know about fat as it relates to helping create the energy your body needs for your favorite physical activities, as well as overall health.
10 Things to Know About Fat
- Fat helps you to absorb important nutrients, like A, D, E, and K, the so-called fat-soluble vitamins.
- The fats your body gets from food provide your body with essential fatty acids.
- Fat in the diet provides energy for your body to function. Particularly, your brain needs fat to function properly, and it needs a special type of fat, polyunsaturated, more specifically, Omega-3. These fats help to support the cell structures in the brain. Fun fact: The human brain is comprised of 60% fat, with fatty acids that are critical to proper brain function.
- Fat is one of three so-called “macro-nutrients.” Alongside it are Carbohydrates and Protein. There are several types of fat, including saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The body can produce saturated fats on its own, so there are no dietary requirements for the consumption of them.
- Saturated fats tend to be solid when at room temperature and can be found in animal, dairy, and packaged food products in addition to coconut and palm kernel oils. A diet high in saturated fats could be a risk factor for heart disease.
- Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats include the essential (meaning they must be consumed in the diet) Omega-3 fatty acids found in many types of cold water fish and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in soybean, corn, and safflower oils (and foods made with those oils). Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, peanut, and canola oils. Other foods that contain poly- and monounsaturated fats include avocados, flax and chia seeds, and almonds.
- Lipolysis is the breakdown of triglycerides into a glycerol and three fatty acids for the purpose of producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the chemical that fuels muscle activity.
- The myth of the fat-burning zone is not really a myth—lipolysis requires oxygen, which is readily available during lower-intensity physical activities. Muscles primarily use fat as the source of ATP during low-intensity activity. As the intensity of exercise increases, the demand for energy is greater and the working muscles will need ATP more quickly than lipolysis can provide. Keep in mind, though, that at lower levels of intensity, you are also burning less overall calories. (Pete McCall, 2018)
- Stress can increase body fat. During periods of stress, or in reaction to certain drinks that elevate the sympathetic hormones of cortisol and norepinephrine, the body releases more triglycerides into the blood stream to be used for energy for the working muscles. However, if there is no significant physical activity to use that energy, those triglycerides will be returned to the adipose (fat!) tissue for storage until they are needed.
- Trans fat (please don’t eat this!) are made when an unsaturated fat, which is normally liquid at room temperature, is hydrogenated (adding hydrogens) so that it turns into a solid. This manufacturing process increases the shelf life of a food product, which is why many packaged foods can be high in trans fats. However, because it changes the chemical structure of fat, trans fats have been linked to heart disease and elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
A Balanced Diet
When you consider what to eat, you should include adequate protein, used for tissue repair, and carbohydrate and fat, which fuel cellular functions. One of the most important functions of fat in the diet is to provide a source of energy for a number of bodily functions, including muscle contractions for physical activity. Don’t think of fat as something bad that should be avoided; rather, think of it as an important source of energy for the body.
A healthy diet should contain adequate amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats, with limited amounts of saturated and trans fats. Let’s all agree to leave the “low-fat” nonsense in the past where it belongs.
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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen
Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.