8 February 2019
FAT EXPLAINED: PLUS A RANT, JUST FOR A CHANGE.
Guess who’s back. Back again. Science is back. Tell a friend! Or Gary Taubes/David Wolfe/Every “Fake News” article on Facebook ever… Any who, now that that’s out of the way, into today’s topic: FAT! Oh wait, actually… Before we dig a little deeper into the nuts (lol) and bolts of dietary fat, I want to…
Guess who’s back. Back again. Science is back. Tell a friend!
Or Gary Taubes/David Wolfe/Every “Fake News” article on Facebook ever…
Any who, now that that’s out of the way, into today’s topic: FAT!
Oh wait, actually… Before we dig a little deeper into the nuts (lol) and bolts of dietary fat, I want to quickly touch on the issue of looking at things in isolation and thinking dichotomously with issues pertaining to diet and training (or anything really for that matter).
Today I will almost exclusively talk about fat. However, it must be understood that although I am zooming in on a single factor in an attempt to give you a little more knowledge on the subject, it still all must be considered in the context of overall nutrition, health and lifestyle.
Just like I spoke about in my Carbohydrates Explained article, nutrition is a contentious topic and unfortunately, it is very easy to have an opinion. The rise of social media has provided an ever greater platform for anyone to have an opinion, imformed or not and this has lead to the spread of misinformation like wildfire.
It truly is hard to know who and what to believe… Like, the earth is flat, right?!
Let me give you this quick tip: If you are aware that health and body composition are almost incomprehensibly multifaceted, then you are already well ahead of the curve.
Almost everyone (bar those who understand the complexity of the subject) is looking for a scapegoat for which they can blindly accuse for all the obesity, and health related issues that currently confront the western world.
Don’t be one of these people!
Don’t fall into the trap of just taking someone else’s opinion (including my own) and trusting it for truth or reality, simply because it’s easier than forming an informed opinion of your own.
This kind of behaviour is child-like.
Remember; back in school when you’d just so much orefer to copy your mate’s maths homework and hope that it was right, than go through the trouble of learning multiplication, fractions and long-division…
As I said, that shit is child-like. Don’t be a child!
Unless of course you are a child, in which case, carry on… Oh, and sorry for swearing.
Circling back around, lots of people do lay blame for the heath problems facing modern society at fat’s door.
While some say that it’s carbs, others say that it’s only the sugar in the carbs… If only it were that simple!
While these factors do contribute to the issue, in isolation they all have a minor influence.
The people that pontificate and perpetuate these views aren’t necessarily incorrect, but they simply have a narrow view on an extremely broad topic.
They do matter. But they likely don’t matter to you!
Some groups (read: cults) are even more bigoted and discriminatory in their views and go so far as to claim that the obesity epidemic is because we aren’t following a strict Paleo diet. Or, because we are eating too many GMO’s, artificial sweeteners, too much dairy and fruit or the fact we aren’t eating all our meals between 1-9pm, or whatever the latest Intermittent Fasting “rules” dictate…
These people are almost completely wrong and probably also believe that vaccines cause autism.
My Advice: Walk away slowly, avoid eye contact and hope to God that they don’t breed!
All jokes aside, what I’m trying to say here in this long-winded intro is that no single factor is responsible for the obesity epidemic (and the consequent health issues that stem from it). Nutrition is highly nuanced and admittedly some factors are more influential than others, but no factor is single-handedly at fault.
Regardless, now that I’ve digressed for long enough, if you want to remove your tinfoil hat and learn a little about what fat actually is, does and causes within our body, read on!
Fats (or Lipids) are one of the major contributors to our caloric intake, along with the other two macronutrients; carbohydrates and protein.
As the name “macro-nutrient” suggests, they are large nutrients and we need them in large (gram) amounts, comparatively to micronutrients.
Per gram, fats contain on average 9 kcals worth of energy. More than double that of protein and carbs, both of which contain approximately 4 kcals, making them extremely energy dense.
Of the fat we do consume, over 90% of it comes in the form of dietary triglycerides. The name triglyceride refers to the components of the molecule, which are three fatty-acid chains (tri) attached to a glycerol (glyceride).
Dietary fat/triglycerides can then be further broken down into subdivisions of the following:
These names refer to the differing chemical structures of the fatty-acid chains and as the names suggest, take into account predominantly the degree of saturation as well as chain length.
I will now elaborate on the effects that each type has within the body, but let me preface this again with, we are now getting into the details of the details. This is an even more specific and narrow-lensed approach than just looking at fat in general.
Often found in animal products or the headlines of under informed newspaper articles. Saturated fats have a bad reputation and I am of the opinion that only some of it is justified. Within the scientific literature, there is some confusion and inconsistency regarding saturated fats. This issue stems predominantly from the fact that not even all saturated fats are the same and they come in differing types (stearic, acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid for example) some of which affect the body positively, while others seem to have a negative impact. In an attempt to keep this concise, I will say this: Saturated fat consumption is likely to not be an issue or something of concern for those who are lean, active, consuming adequate fruits/vegetables and control their energy balance. A minimum consumption of saturated fat may actually be a good idea for some populations who fit the above categories (such as athletes) as some research has indicated that saturated fat is required for optimising hormonal levels. Conversely, if you are someone who does not easily fit into the aforementioned criteria, saturated fat MAY contribute to inflammation and whole host of other adverse health affects.
Much like their saturated counterparts, monounsaturated fats have earned a reputation that likely only somewhat deserve, albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum. Monounsaturated fats have been proposed to have all kinds of health promoting benefits. The rise of monounsaturated fats was mainly popularised through correlational research on Mediterranean-style diets, which have been observed to have many health promoting benefits. It has long been speculated that a key factor in the longevity of the Mediterranean people is their large consumption of olive oil, which contains a very high amount of oleic acid (hence the name), which is a monounsaturated fat. The issue with correlational research however, is that it is INCAPABLE of determining cause and effect. Correlational research can only be used to determine if a relationship exists (such as that between a Mediterranean-style diet and longevity) not that one factor actually causes a specific outcome to occur, however that is a problem I will discuss further in the future.
The relevance this has here is that the Mediterranean diet is also renowned for being very high in protein, vegetables, seafood and antioxidants (among others things). All of which are factors that have their own health promoting benefits. Interestingly enough, foods that have a bad reputation for being high in saturated fat, such as beef and eggs, also too contain a high amount of oleic acid, usually in 1:1 ratio or slightly higher favouring oleic acid. So remember that next time you go demonizing a food group! My final word on monounsaturated fat is that it is probably your best bet if looking to consume any ADDITIONAL fat in your diet, due to it appearing to have a neutral to slightly positive impact on health. Remember, don’t go overboard though. Drowning your food in a sea of olive oil leads to unnecessary and excessive calorie consumption, of which the negative health consequences far outweigh the slight potential benefits of consuming additional oleic acid.
Now we’ve made it to our “essentials”. Remember back in my previous article: “Carbohydrates Explained” when I outlined what an essential nutrient was? If you haven’t read it, read it! But if you have and just need a little reminder (or CBF’d), basically essential nutrients are nutrients that MUST be consumed through the diet in adequate amounts in order to achieve optimal health because the body cannot synthesise enough of them on its own.
The two primary polyunsaturated fats, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA) are considered essential and are also of the highly touted Omega 3 and 6 varieties respectively. Something to note here however, is that even though ALA and LA are considered essential, even some of the most ill-thought out, extremist diets still contain the bare minimum requirements of these nutrients. Yes, they must be eaten in sufficient amounts, but don’t blow that fact out of proportion. You likely eat sufficient amounts without even trying (it actually took years of research to even establish that they were essential nutrients due to deficiency being so hard to achieve). Now, this may have you confused.
“But I thought the omegas were critically important for becoming healthy, smart, ripped and sexually attractive?” I can hear you say, and you’re not completely wrong. Speaking very generally, although both Omega 3’s and 6’s are needed for optimal health, they do usually have opposing roles within the body. With Omega 3’s contributing to “good” effects and Omega 6’s contributing to “bad” effects. Again, this is me stating things extremely generally and I hope I have made the point clear that nutrition is highly nuanced and ALWAYS more complex than that. However I am simply trying to paint a picture to help you understand some things. Now, the issue with our omegas is not only the necessity to get them but also the ratio in which we consume them.
Evidence suggests that the diet on which we humans evolved on, contained somewhere between 1 to 4 parts omega-6 to every 1 part omega-3. Currently, the western diet contains an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio somewhere in the range of 20-25:1. This is due somewhat in part to the absolute abundance of omega-6 within food supply currently, as well as increasing lack of omega-3 containing foods. However, there is mounting arguments against even the relevance of this ratio, so I will leave a leave my opinion on the matter until the evidence is more conclusive. What I can say at this stage however is the following, getting plenty of Omega 3’s in through food or supplantation is rarely a bad idea, as long as more important variables such as calories and total fat intake are taken care of.
This is a fairly straightforward one, so I’ll wrap it up quickly before I take up too much more of your time. Trans-fatty acids (TFAs) or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found almost exclusively in processed foods. Essentially they are vegetable oils that have been engineered and altered in order to have a longer shelf life. Basically, this alteration changes the chemical structure of the fatty-acids into a form that not ideal for use by the body, which then leads to many downstream effects and health complications. The evidence is abundantly clear on trans-fats, they offer practically no benefits (outside of providing energy if you were truly facing starvation) and should be consumed with great caution.
Now that I have hopefully given you a greater insight into dietary fats and the way in which the different types may or may not affect your health I will leave you with some simple, practical guidelines.
– Assuming that you are consuming an appropriate amount of calories, acquiring 20-30% of those calories from fat is a good range to start and adjust on personal preference and how you “feel”.
– Try not to spend extended periods of time beneath 0.5g/kg/day. An 70kg male dieting for a bodybuilding show may have to spend a brief period consuming >35g of fat per day, but this should not be done so extended periods of time due to health consequences. Women should likely be even more careful with this practise.
– Aim to consume fatty-fish, omega 3 fortified foods or a supplement if necessary, regularly.
– Avoid trans-fats when possible.
– Don’t buy dumb ketone supplements