Dietary fat has the highest energy content of all macronutrients (9 calories per gram), which makes it all the more important to know how much you are taking in.
But above any muscle building or body fat burning goals, dietary fat plays a vital role in your overall health. The most important thing to know is that not all fats are born equal, some are better than others and knowing which ones to go for and how to balance them can be crucial for your health.
Importance of Fat in your Diet
Fat helps our body absorb vitamins, control hormone production, promote cell function, and more. Also, it tastes good.
Dietary Fat Does not Equal Body Fat
Any self-righteous detective will concluded that all dietary fat ends up as body fat, because fat = fat. But just like any macronutrient, fat has to do the whole digestive protocol and will get stored as body fat only if your caloric intake is higher than your energy expenditure.
Types of Fat
The trans fatty acids that we generally find in our food today are artificially produced by an industrial process called hydrogenation. Manufacturers add trans fat to food in order to increase the food’s shelf life and texture.
Common products that often contain trans fat include: deep fried food, cookies, cakes, frozen pizzas, margarine, etc. What all these foods have in common other than trans fats is that they are generally labeled as “junk” food, so I’m sure you can see the connection.
It has been well documented that industrial trans fat lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
Thankfully, over the past decade or so awareness has increased, people know more about the dangers of trans fats and manufacturers have responded by cramming less of it into our food. Nonetheless, read the nutrition labels and try to avoid completely the food that contains trans fat.
Primary sources of saturated fat in today’s diet come from meat and dairy products such as: cheese, milk, cream, beef, pork (particularly the fattier cuts), butter, etc.
It tends to get kicked around a lot, since saturated fat has been both linked and unlinked to coronary heart disease. However, research has indicated that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, which contributes to increased risk of heart disease.
Long story short: as the research keeps piling up, saturated fat may not be all that bad, just don’t make it your only fat source.
Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated Fat
These are the good guys and should comprise the majority of your fat sources.
Monounsaturated fat sources:
- Nuts – almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans
- Olive oil
Polyunsaturated fat sources:
- Sunflower seeds
Fat Quantity & Timing
The good news about fat is that you can eat it whenever! No need to think about pre or post workouts, just make sure to get your daily dose.
It is recommended that 20-35% of your daily calories come from fat. Calculate your calorie requirements and hit a range that applies to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). If you want to calculate the exact needs for yourself, remember that 1 gram of fat has 9 calories.
Ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Certain polyunsaturated fats are high in the coveted Omega 3 essential fatty acids, particularly Sardines, Salmon and Mackerel.
For most people today, the Omega 6/3 ratios are severely skewed in favor of the Omega 6, with the average person eating 16:1 and the ideal target being 1:1. Keeping track of this ratio is nothing short of a pain in the ass, so I’m just going to recommend you try to eat the above fish twice a week and/or consider supplementing with fish oil.
Recommended Fat Source Foods
- Fish – salmon, sardines and mackerel should be a part of everyone’s regular diet. There are few other reliable sources of Omega 3.
- Oils – when in doubt where to get your fats from, add extra virgin olive oil. Simple and tasty.
- Nuts – almonds and peanuts are the stars of the show here, both in regular and butter format.
- Dairy – milk, yogurt and cheese. Go for low-fat or fat-free options if you want to reduce your saturated fat intake, just make sure that fat isn’t being compensated for with added sugar.
- Eggs – an excellent source of both protein and fat. Boil them, scramble them, put them in your pancakes!