Dietary Fat

Dietary Fat

Fat is one of the three macronutrients in our food and is essential to life.  There are healthy fats and not so healthy fats, and we need dietary fat to optimize our health.  However, everyone is unique and there is no one “right” amount of fat to be eaten.  It really comes down to your own individual physiology.  This post explores dietary fat through the lens of 4 individuals:  a Nutritionist, an Integrative Physician and Naturopath, a Strength Coach, and a Personal Trainer.

Nutritionist

Researchers have shown that fat has the following benefits:

  • Fat is a powerful source of energy for humans
  • Fat is necessary for proper brain function
  • Fat is the building blocks for all sex hormones, meaning progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. 

We know that fats are essential for human life, much like protein is essential, while carbohydrates are not essential.  Thus, it is important to eat a optimal amount of dietary fat every day in order to optimize health. The exact amount differs by person. But make no mistake, eating too little fat will have health consequences down the road.

Reason why dietary fat is healthy:

  • Fat does not impact the hormone insulin.  Insulin is known as a “storage” hormone.  When blood sugar is too high, insulin is released and it moves the extra calories into fat cells.  This happens when you eat too many carbs and can also happen when over-consuming protein.  However, when consuming fat in a meal, fat slows down the body’s release of insulin and moderates this affect.  
  • Dietary fat has a satiating affect.  It helps to makes us feel full, thus regulating appetite. 
  • Fat provides significantly longer lasting energy than carbohydrates.  In fact, fat-adapted athletes can go for very long periods of time with little to no food.  Sugar athletes (those who lives on carbs), need to eat frequently or they “bonk.”
  • Fat is necessary for proper absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).  These vitamins are critical for human health.  It is well known that many vegetarians and vegans are seriously deficient in these vitamins, which manifest in various health issues.  Read more about vitamin D here Role of Vitamin D in a Healthy Immune Systemand here Vitamin D May Not Be Working.

It’s best to consume a range of the different types of fat each day.

  • Saturated fat – long demonized by faulty science, saturated is NOT bad for you, but rather absolutely necessary for healthy cell walls.  Make sure to have a little bit every day.  Best sources:  meat, fish, dairy, coconut oil.
  • Monounsaturated fat – this is probably the very best type of fat, so this should be eaten the most.  These fats are known to be protective against a wide range of diseases.  Best sources:  olive oil, nuts, avocados, olives.  For more information regarding the goodness of nuts, read this The Latest Nut Study.
  • Omega-3 Polyunsaturated fats – these fats are highly anti-inflammatory and most people get far too little.  Best sources:  fatty fish and grass-fed beef.  Plant sources include walnuts and flax seeds, but their absorption rates are far less that that of animal sources.
  • Omega-6 Polyunsaturated fats – these fats are inflammatory, but are necessary in small amounts to balance out the Omega-3’s.  The big problem these days is that we over-consume Omega-6’s.  Best sources:  seeds and nuts.  Alert:  stay clear from vegetable oils and soy, which are high in Omega-6’s but not healthy at all!  Read this Choosing the Right Cooking Oil.

Integrative Physician and Naturopath

Integrative medicine is about helping patients by working with them to understand their unique reactions to each macronutrient.  As mentioned in the introduction, we all have individual responses to food, so this approach is necessary for lasting success.

In regards to dietary fat, it is all about how it affects hunger, energy, and cravings. For example, if you find that when you eat more fat in your diet, and it keeps hunger, energy and cravings normalized for long periods, then you are someone who should probably eat a higher amount of dietary fat, and thus, less carbs.  On the other hand, if you find that when you consume fat in your meals, you still get hungry or have cravings or are tired soon thereafter, then you should probably eat less fat.  This is an important distinction to make for yourself.  

A simple way to test this is to use a method by which you separate your macros for a few days and see how you respond.  For example, on days 1-2 you’ll eat a baseline diet of lean protein, veggies and water, with little added fat.  Record how you feel over the course of the day, in terms of hunger, energy and cravings.  Then on days 3-4, you stick to the same baseline diet but add in some healthy fats, like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, etc and record how you feel.  Which group of days did you feel better?  Did adding a tablespoon of butter to your veggies give you better control over hunger and cravings, with more sustained energy…..or the opposite?

Strength Coach

Many studies show that a number of nutrients implicated in protecting against cancer (vitamin A, folic acid, selenium, and zinc) are more abundant in animal foods, and are much better absorbed when eating from animal sources than when coming from plant foods.  For more information on cancer fighting foods, check out this article Anti-Cancer Nutrition.

General rules to follow:

  • This rule is supported by numerous studies; never consume less than 15% of overall calories from fat.  Eating too little dietary fat is very likely to significantly decrease sex hormone levels.
  • Eating high carb and high fat at the same meal is a bad idea, as studies show that this can lead to rapid weight gain through fat storage.
  • Don’t cook with poly-unsaturated fats, especially vegetable oils, which are terribly unhealthy. Cook with coconut or palm oil or animal fats.

Ancestral studies show that humans historically ate a ratio of 4:1 of omega 3 to omega 6 fats. Today, the average western diet is skewed more to a ratio of 1:16 which is crazy inflammatory. Most people need to increase the amount of Omega-3’s consumed (fatty fish, grass fed beef, and walnuts), while decreasing the amount of Omega-6s consumed (stop eating processed foods and stop cooking with vegetable oils).

Personal Trainer

The Personal Trainer suggests eating by 3 “fat” rules:

  • Don’t consume concentrated “fat only” meals
  • Don’t consume fat without protein
  • Make sure you’re getting enough omega-3’s fats

Fat is neither “really bad” nor “absolutely benevolent.” Fat is an essential nutrient that has been overly demonized for the last 50-60 years. Saturated fat is necessary for healthy hormone levels, while omega-3 fatty acids are necessary to keep chronic inflammation at bay.

It’s not a good idea to continually over-eat with “fat only” meals because this will artificially load up your bloodstream with excess calories on a constant basis.  This is not good because this state will make it much more difficult to mobilize the body’s own fat stores for fuel.  As such, this is why it’s important to eat protein along with dietary fat.  Eating a diet that is higher in fats and lower in carbs can be very beneficial for a lot of people. Just make sure to consume that fat throughout the day in combination with protein and lots of leafy green vegetables. Foods like whole eggs, grass-fed beef, liver, grass-fed butter, chicken thighs, fatty fish, olive oil and brazil nuts should all be part of your plan.

MCT oil and coconut oil should are also highly recommended as quick energy sources due to the medium chain triglycerides present in these foods, which get quickly converted into ketone bodies.

In summary, eat lots of fat, but make sure you’re eating it with protein (and leafy greens). Finally, make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fats to fight inflammation.

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