Recently, we’ve been talking about the basics of protein and carbohydrates — two of the three food groups that make up what are known as Macronutrients.
Well, we’ve got one more to go, and we saved the trickiest one for last.
It’s time to talk fat, people.
I know that fat can be a touchy subject for many people.
You won’t find many people who want to be fat. Or who enjoy not being able to button their jeans. Or who love getting into a bathing suit when they’re carrying an extra 20+ pounds around.
In fact, if you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing a big part of your motivation is creating a lifestyle that helps you burn more fat.
But there’s a difference between the extra calories your body stores as fat and what we’re talking about here — dietary fat.
As a culture, we’ve spent years telling ourselves to eradicate fat from our diets — low-fat and nonfat food options occupy grocery store shelves as far as the eye can see.
Dietary fat has become the enemy. After all, it says it right there in the name. And since we don’t want to be fat, we obviously need to avoid it at all costs, right?
Like the other two macro-types we’ve discussed, fats play an important role in your overall health, and are necessary for reaching your fitness goals.
Let’s take a look at exactly what fats are, how your body uses them, and the best way to make them work for you.
What Are Fats?
When we talk about fats, piles of bacon or mountains of guacamole might come to mind. But what are we actually talking about when we say “fats”?
Fats are triglycerides, cholesterol and other fatty acids. Like the other macronutrients — protein and carbs — our bodies don’t make these compounds on their own. We have to get them from the foods we eat.
And the primary job of these fatty compounds is to store energy to insulate and protect our vital organs. But that isn’t their only role.
Fats send signals throughout the body that helps protein do its job (like tiny little messengers). They boost immune function, help control growth and build cell membranes, aid in reproduction, and help keep your metabolism firing correctly. Fats also help the body stockpile what are known as the “fat-soluble” vitamins — A, D, E, and K — in the liver and fatty tissues of the body so they’re ready to be used, as needed.
In short, almost every system in the body relies on fats, in some way, to keep them functioning correctly.
Why Do We See Fat As The Enemy?
If fat plays such an important role in a healthy body, why do we cast it as our nutritional villain?
Probably because there’s a fine line between eating enough fat for optimal health, and overeating, which can lead to a whole list of health problems (beyond a few unwanted pounds).
Fats are more nutrient dense than the other macronutrients — while protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 calories per gram.
This means eating the same amount of fat as the other macros will result in more than double the calories. So while eating 40 grams of lean protein will only add 160 calories to your daily total, 40 grams of fat would pack on an extra 360 calories.
Because of this, it's important to keep in mind that a little fat goes a long way.
It’s also important to understand that, much like carbohydrates, not all fats are created equal.
Saturated fats are what we think of as “bad fats”. Unfortunately, they’re also pretty common in most of the tasty, American foods we love. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (like bacon grease), and sources include red meat, whole-milk dairy products, coconut oil and more.
While saturated fats are not necessarily bad for you, per se, they can significantly increase cholesterol levels, particularly harmful LDL cholesterol. This can lead to blockages in your arteries, dramatically increasing your risk of heart attack and other health problems.
On the other end of the spectrum are the “good fats” — of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated variety. These fats come primarily from nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish. These fats are liquid at room temperature.
Good sources of these fats include cooking oils like olive oil, avocados, most nuts, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids — salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and many more.
Unlike saturated fats, these fats have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions. They play a role in reducing harmful LDL cholesterol levels, improving blood pressure, and have even been shown to reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s still important to remember that even “good fats” can quickly drive up your daily calories, but strategically including them as part of your diet can really pay off.
How Do You Make Fat Work to Reach Your Goals?
When it comes to fat, making it work for you comes down to two questions — what and how much?
Getting fats from quality sources — nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies, and omega-3 loaded fish — should be your first priority. This ensures that not only are you getting enough fat for your body to function properly, but the fats you eat will also be working hard to keep your ticker and other organs in peak condition.
And you don’t have to swear off saturated fats completely — you can definitely treat yourself to foods that are higher in saturated fats from time-to-time. Ideally, your goal should be to limit your saturated-fat intake to 10% or less of the total fats you’re choosing.
The next part of the fat equation comes down to how much fat you’re eating. It’s important to understand how much fat you really need, and what a serving of fat actually looks like.
It can be easy to think that because you’re choosing a quality source of fat, you can go crazy. While avocados can do wonders for your heart health, slathering your burrito bowl in a huge helping of guac can cause the calories to skyrocket.
It’s necessary to find the right balance for your body and individual needs.
But how do you figure out what the right amount of fat is for your body? As it just so happens that I’ve got something to help you out.
At Nutrithority, we designed our Excellence Academy courses to teach you everything you need to know about calculating and counting Macros, and making those numbers work to reach your goals. Check out one of these programs and get everything you need to become a Macro pro, right at your fingertips.
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