If there was ever a “villain” among the macronutrients, dietary fat would probably be your first guess as to who it was. It’s been blamed for everything from heart disease, to clogged arteries, to just plain making you fat.
Drop your low fat dressing and toss out that bag of no fat cheesy poofs. Dietary fat is a necessary macronutrient (they all are to one extent or another) and is much, MUCH more beneficial than most people would have you think.
What is it?
Dietary fats encompass a range of compounds that are soluble (they dissolve) in organic solvents, but insoluble (they don’t dissolve) in water. The most common fat that the everyday person would recognize is Olive Oil, Vegetable Oil, or any other oil used for cooking.
Generally, an “oil” is a fat that is a liquid at room temperature while a “fat” is something that is solid at room temperature. Using this classification system, the most recognizable form of fat that the everyday person sees would be animal fat (the fat on a steak, or in bacon).
The overarching term that includes both oils and fats is lipids. Other substances are classified as lipids, but that’s more detail than we need to go into now.
Fats are also separated by their chemical structure. This is where the terms saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated. In the most basic sense, a fat is some free fatty acids attached to a few glycerol molecule.
Carbon and hydrogen atoms are always a part of the chemical make up of fat. When the fatty acid is holding as many carbon atoms as it possibly can, it’s called a saturated fat. If there is room for more carbon to attach, then it is an unsaturated fat. The term polyunsaturated fat just means that the fatty acid has two double bonds with a carbon chain instead of one, like an unsaturated fatty acid.
All of that last paragraph is more than you need to know (yet still wayyyyyy less information than is available) to be able to make healthy choices when it comes to your diet.
Where do you get it?
From animals or plants, just like the rest of the macronutrients. Below is only a cursory list of the best ways to get fat in your diet…
- Meat (Beef, Duck, Pork, etc)
- Olive Oil
- Organic Butter
- Egg Yolks
- Coconut Oil
What Does it Do?
Fats provide energy to the body and make it possible for certain Vitamins (A, D, E, and K) to be dissolved and absorbed. Without a proper amount of fat you wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of these Vitamins and could end up suffering from problems seeing at night and lowered immune response (Vitamin A), muscle aches/weakness/twitching (Vitamin D), anemia and male infertility (Vitamin E), and stomach pain and calcium deposits in the arteries and body (Vitamin K).
Eat your fats and get your vitamins people.
Fat also plays a role in the production of sex hormones. The cholesterol (a waxy steroid of fat) you get when you ingest fatty acids does’t go directly to your arteries to gum them up, like most people believe. It does, however, play a key role in the production of testosterone and the other sex hormones. With out a sufficient intake of fatty acids the production of testosterone is massively altered and way below the normal levels.
Eat your fats and stay vigorously full of testosterone people.
Lastly (for this article), fats provide energy to the body in the form of free fatty acids and glycerol. When digested, the free fatty acids are separated from their glycerol counterparts and can enter the bloodstream and muscle fibers. They are converted into energy in any one of a assortment of metabolic processes. The glycerol can be used for energy also, just after it gets converted to glucose by the liver. For each gram of fat you ingest you will get 9 calories worth of energy.
Many people (too many people actually) still have this weird belief that eating dietary fat will make you fat.
In most cases it is the exact opposite. At the end of this series (still have protein and carbohydrates to include at this point) I’ll show you how to bring it all together.
But for now I can just let you know that, for every meal you eat, fat and carbohydrates should not be equal. This means that each meal should focus on one or the other (protein is always involved in every meal). So when you eat you should be able to look at your plate and think to yourself “this meal is all protein and fat” or “this meal is all protein and carbohydrates”. You won’t be able to completely focus on just those two macronutrients (meaning your P+C meal will have some fat in it, and your P+F meal will have some carbohydrates in it), but those two should make up the bulk of that meal.
Why is it Important?
Dietary fat is important not because of the energy it provides to the body, but also because it established cell permeability (ie. allows nutrients and such to cross between cells), is a crucial part in the production of sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, etc.), also because…and this is the best part here…it’s effects on satiation.
Huh? WTF is satiation?
In the most basic sense, satiation is your bodys immediate reaction to food that you are eating.
Where dietary fat plays a part in this response is that the body sends the signal that you are full (satiation) and you will, hopefully, put down the fork.
This is where the old rule of “eat your meal over a time span of 30 minutes to give your body a chance to recognize you are full’ came from.
When you eat a diet that is mostly carbohydrates, one of two things will happen to make you satiated…
- If these carbohydrates are processed (ie. shit in a box), you will eat wayyy more calories than you need or intended before you even feel slightly full. By the time you feel full you’ve just had 3,000 calories in a single sitting. Not exactly a recipe for fat loss or muscle gain.
- If these carbohydrates are unprocessed (veggies, potatoes, rice) you will push the satiation button by stomach volume alone. Meaning your stomach is literally filled. If you’re deathly afraid of fat and take this approach you will have one hell of a time eating even the minimum amount of calories to see any results from your training.
The opinions on dietary fat seem to ebb and flow every few years or when a study is published with titles like “Dietary Fat: Eat 1,000g/day To Live FOREVER!!1” or “Dietary Fat: Causes Ulcers, Cancer, and AIDS if Touched”.
Simply, dietary fat is a necessary macronutrient and if you cut it out completely from your diet you WILL get sick and not be able to train or perform at an optimal level.
How to Use it Effectively…
The most effective way to make sure you’re getting enough fat is to follow a Paleo based diet. Red meat, bacon, pork, fish, avocado, nuts, and olive oil are great sources and they all taste fantastical.
Now, you don’t have to join the “Paleo Cult” and freak out anytime someone eats an oreo in front of you. But if you become familiar with the concepts and approach, you’ll be on the right track.
(If you’re new to Paleo, or even if you’ve been at it for a while, The Paleo Cookbook has proven to be a lifesaver when I’m looking to switch things up.)
All kinds of diets call for different ratios of macronutrients…so I’ll toss in my recommendation. Personally, my diet is mostly fat and protein, so for those who are looking to stay lean easily and still be able to perform in the weight room or on the track/field, this is what I recommend.
Anywhere from 40%-50% of my daily calories come from fat. At the very least you should be getting 30% of you calories from fat.