The Macronutrient Series: Fat

Welcome back to the second blog in our Macronutrient Series!

Last week we took a deeper look into the importance of protein intake for your overall health as well as how it impacts your health & fitness journey. This week we move on to a macronutrient that is often misunderstood and feared, Fat! Today’s blog will explain why fat is important in your diet and help demystify the fear of eating fat in your daily nutrition.

Today We Will Focus on:

  • Health Benefits of Dietary Fat
  • How Fat Intake Impacts your Health & Fitness Journey
  • What are Healthy Fats?
  • Healthy Fats Role in Inflammation

What are Macros?

Let’s start by understanding exactly what macros are. Macros, which is short for Macronutrients, are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that you consume within your diet providing you with energy. Your body needs these macronutrients in large amounts to keep it functioning properly. Food is categorized into the macronutrient of which they contain the most. Chicken is categorized as a protein despite also containing fat, and potatoes are categorized as a carbohydrate even though they also contain protein.

Health Benefits of Dietary Fat

Throughout the years diet culture has had us believing that eating fat would just cause you to gain more weight by gaining more fat; this is partly because fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient.  There are nine calories in every gram of fat, regardless of what type of fat it is as fats are more energy-dense than carbohydrates and proteins. While high fat foods may come with a higher calorie count, this does not mean these foods should be completely avoided nor will these foods directly cause you to gain weight. Yes, there are dietary fats that are better for your body than others but if you read my blog on How the Body Burn Calories, you’ll remember that consuming high level of calories, no matter the food source, can lead to weight gain.

So exactly what is fat and how can it benefit your body? Fat when eaten is broken down into fatty acids to provide our body with energy. Fat helps to protect your organs, assists in maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels and helps your body absorb vital nutrients. Dietary fat provides the body with essential fatty acids, which are fatty acids the body cannot make itself and can only obtain through food. Basically, there are fats that we must eat as we cannot get them any other way.  Fat is also needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins require fat for them to be absorbed and are stored in our fatty tissue.

If we need another reason to hold dietary fat on a pedestal it is because our brains are made up of 60% fat making it the fattiest organ in our bodies. In order for us to provide our brain the fatty acids it needs to perform and preserve its integrity, we need those fatty acids! Fatty acids are also the primary energy source for our heart!

How Fat Intake Impacts your Health & Fitness Journey

When we work out, our bodies have a reserve of glycogen in our muscles and liver that it uses for energy. Glycogen comes from eating carbohydrates. Just like fat is broken down into fatty acids; carbohydrates are broken down into glycogen. This glycogen is then stored mainly in our muscles and liver and is our bodies first energy reserve. As we begin to workout, perform a cardiovascular activity (walking, running, cycling) or exert a lot of energy, our bodies begin to use glycogen for energy. As we deplete glycogen our muscles will tap into their reserve to keep our energy going. Once those reserves are used, our body then resorts to fat to energize itself. Fat will become the energy source during longer, lower intensity exercise as well as endurance exercises. Fat is also the primary energy source for lower intensity activities, where are heart rate does not become overly elevated.

What are Healthy Fats?

As a nutrition coach I prefer to stay away from labeling food as “Good” and “Bad” as I believe in moderation when it comes to the food you eat. With that being said, there are “healthy” fats that I do believe should make their way to everyone’s plate in order to have balance in your nutrition. The distinction between fatty foods and “high fat” foods are that fatty foods are going to be the over processed packaged foods or deep fried foods. These are foods that contain high levels of processed fats and these fatty foods are ones that you want to limit within your diet. High-fat foods are the ones that naturally contain large amounts of fat per serving. These natural fats are the ones we want to increase within our diet. These natural fats are found in the list below. There are a lot of options when it comes to finding high-fat foods that will help support your heart health and boost the intake of healthy fat in your daily nutrition.

  • Avocados
  • Olive Oil
  • Fatty Fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel)
  • Soybeans
  • Seeds (Hemp, chia, Flax, pumpkin)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Whole Eggs
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts)

When adding more fats into your nutrition, it is not a one size fits all approach as everyone’s body is different but when looking at your plates, try and have a thumb size amount of healthy fat with your meals. Limit the amount of processed and prepackaged fats and add in natural, healthy fats. This can be as simple as eating fatty fish several times a week, adding chia seeds to your smoothies or sprinkling nuts and seeds on your salads.

Healthy Fats Role in Inflammation

In addition to being a primary fuel source for our body, fat plays a critical role in controlling inflammation in our body. Fat is a vital component to every cell in our body as it makes up the cellular wall (the outer portion of our cells). Cells combine to form tissues and tissues make up our organs (muscles, heart, liver, lung, etc.). Cells have a life span and are constantly being replaced and regenerated in order for our organs to stay healthy. During the breakdown of cells either due to cellular death (natural process when a cell has reached its life span) or trauma (injury), fatty acids are released from the damaged cell wall. Depending upon what type of fatty acid are cell walls are composed of; yes, it is actually true that we are what we eat, will determine if there will be an inflammatory response related to the breakdown of the cell. Have you ever heard of or taken Omega-3 fatty acids? One of the many benefits of eating or taking Omega-3 fatty acids is that they help regulate and reduce inflammation through this process. In other words, when we eat or take Omega-3 fatty acids we have a higher percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids in our cell walls, which when released during this breakdown process it will help to decrease the amount of inflammation that occurs. On the other hand, consuming too much of other fatty acids that are contained in processed and fried foods has the opposite effect and actually increases inflammation in our body, which can have detrimental effects on our health, as inflammation creates increased breakdown of our tissues (joints, muscles, heart, liver, lungs, etc.) which can increase our risk of many health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, cancer, etc. Therefore, fat is essential to our health, but we need to be sure that we are consuming enough of the healthy fats. The best sources of Omega-3s are foods noted on the list above.

Looking to regain your health through Nutritional Coaching, schedule a First Step Nutritional Coaching Strategy Session that will only cost you 30 minutes of your time to come meet and discuss your goals with us!

What’s Next?…

Follow us on Instagram & Facebook for more information and recipe ideas on fat intake. Next week we will conclude our macronutrient series and focus on carbohydrates!

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