The macronutrient “fat” has a history of being demonized. It’s important to note, the fat on your body isn’t the same fat you find in your peanut butter. It’s equally important to understand that both healthy and unhealthy fats exist in the foods around us. While I don’t like to call foods “good” or “bad”, it’s helpful to know what’s more important for you to take in. To keep the positive fat flow, we will start with those unnecessary unhealthy fats. I’ll also avoid too much science-y stuff and just get to the good stuff.
The unhealthy fats that you can absolutely (and probably should) live without are processed by humans and don’t come naturally from plants or animals. Think: highly processed oils or margarine and factory meat, eggs and dairy. These types of items have an seemingly infinite shelf life and that’s one of the main reasons they are produced. In addition to their overconsumption, there are way too many stinking studies linking high trans fat diets to higher risks of chronic diseases. As far as cholesterol is concerned, they lower your good cholesterol and increase the bad cholesterol. No bueno. I truly believe in moderation. While I love fat, I’d rather head down the unprocessed route whenever possible. It would be phenomenal if we could trust the corporations and stores to effectively market and provide the public with only the best, but don’t count on it. Make it your responsibility to do your own research.
Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, Jess. I thought all fat increases the risk of cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other life-threatening chronic conditions?” You would be correct. However, while saturated fats (the good kind of fat) is associated with the above mentioned, that has to do with excessive consumption of fat in general. When you are eating whole foods that aren’t processed, it’s nearly impossible to consume the bad stuff to put you at high risk. As with anything diet and medically-related, check in with your doctor and keep up with your annual blood work.
If this all sounds bad, you’re probably wondering why we even consume fat at all? In moderation, healthy fats are really important. No only does it help support our immune system, hormones and absorption of some really important vitamins, (here comes the good stuff) it can actually help with body composition! It actually becomes a part of our cells, which helps with organ and tissue function; especially your brain. If you’re interested in reading about the vital role fat plays in our functioning bodies, take a peak here. We are going to move ahead to the fun stuff. Like why you can keep peanut butter in your life.
Let’s start with a list of some awesome fats:
- raw nuts and seeds
- various fresh fish (avoiding farm raised)
- pasteurized butter and meats
- all sorts of extra virgin, unprocessed oils (or as minimally processed as you can get)
Here’s the thing. It’s not that people need to stop eating fat; it’s just that many people eat significantly more than they need to and too much comes in the uber-processed form. It can seem a bit surprising that 1 serving of peanut butter is just 2 tablespoons and 1 serving of avocado is about 1/2 of it. 🙁 It’s actually quite depressing. But, if you are conservative about your intake of fat, you will realize you can eat less of it and feel satisfied; hint: this helps control your appetite and over-eating. This is because there’s are a good amount of calories (energy) in 1 serving of fat as compared to the other macronutrients, carbs and protein. Whether or not you decide to measure or track your macronutrient intake, consider this: Your protein should be on point in your chart of 100%; a reminder of this in Part 1. Now, the rest of that 100% pie chart is more or less made of carbs and fats. Based on simple math, if you are eating more carbohydrates, you should be eating less fats. If you are eating more fats, you should be eating less carbohydrates. Make sense? Because carbohydrates are super effective in providing energy when weight training, I generally keep my fats a little lower on days I lift, especially right before and right after the workout. To be honest, because fats digest a bit slower, I don’t feel great with peanut butter or avocado just sitting in my stomach before lifting. On days where I’m not lifting weights, am focusing on recovery, cardio or lower impact circuit training, I favor fats a bit higher and keep carbs a bit lower.
I know this can all feel overly complicated and frustrating; specifically because the world puts out new studies, cautions and conflicting research on foods and our forever journey to improved body composition. If you really want to understand how and what you are consuming, tracking is the best, most honest way. I cover this in my post on protein, Part 1. Even if done for a week or two, tracking your diet really shows you where you are getting in too many calories, or not enough, for a positive body change. If you aren’t at the point where tracking your food has value for you, stick to unprocessed, portioned fat wherever you can. Measuring out your oils, nut butters and raw nuts makes a huge difference as well, especially when you are cooking and that heavy hand is dumping EVOO into the pan.
Remember, there are plenty of diets and fads out there that may work for you. I’m not here to judge. Quite frankly, coaches who work with athletes or competitors have a really strategic plan when it comes to successfully working with their clients. Because I work with the general population on a quest to find happiness and sanity in their lives, I personally find that they are happiest (myself included) when they share the love amongst protein, fats and carbs. So know this; if you are looking for a simple balance, fats have a place in your life!