In the third and final part of the Macronutrients 101 series, we’re going to focus on fats.
Fats have often been vilified and low-fat products are more popular than ever. This is unfortunate because, contrary to what you might have heard, healthy fats are an irreplaceable part of your diet.
- Serve as an energy reserve for your body and provide many essential fatty acids.
- Contribute to the assimilation of fat-soluble nutrients.
- Play an essential role in the production of hormones.
They can be sorted into three categories. If there is no double bond in the fatty acid chain, the fat is called saturated. If there is at least one double bond in the fatty acid chain, the fat is called unsaturated.
Finally, we have trans fats, which are primarily the result of human involvement. And like most things found in processed products, they’re not exactly good for you.
But more on that later. Technically, they fall into the unsaturated fat category.
Before we go further, a small detail that you may find helpful down the road….Fats mostly exist in combinations.
So when you hear that olive oil contains unsaturated fat, it means that the majority of the fat in olive oil is unsaturated. There is, however, some saturated fat in it as well.
Fats that have no double bonds in their molecular structure are called saturated.
Saturated fats are the most controversial type of fat. Almost everyone agrees that unsaturated fats are good and trans fats are bad but saturated fats are a different story.
The main reason for this controversy is that saturated fats have been singled out by some as the leading cause of obesity in our time.
Which, if we’re being honest, is kind of stupid.
We’ve been eating saturated fat for millennia and suddenly we’re blaming it for problems that started 30 years ago. It doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s also the ‘common knowledge’ that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. Again, this has never been conclusively proven.(1)
However, here’s a fact you may find interesting;
Replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates in your diet may actually increase the risk of heart disease(2). Unfortunately, your ‘healthy, low-fat’ breakfast cereal isn’t as innocent as it seems.
To be clear, I’m not telling you to gorge yourself on as much saturated fat as you can. There are people with legitimate health issues that really do need to cut back on saturated fat. If you’re one of them, do yourself a favor and listen to your doctor.
What I am saying is that, if you’re healthy, you shouldn’t discard part of your natural diet because of fear mongering.
Saturated fats can be found in red meats, dairy, egg yolks, chicken meat, turkey meat, coconut oil etc.
Fats that have at least one double bond in their structure are known as unsaturated. Unsaturated fats can be sorted into two categories.
If a fat only has one double bond in its molecular structure, it’s called monounsaturated. If it has two or more bonds, it’s called polyunsaturated.
Also known as MUFAs(monounsaturated fatty acids). Most experts agree that MUFAs are beneficial to your health. Research shows that replacing some of the saturated fat in your diet with monounsaturated fat can lower your risk of heart disease(3).
Additionally, MUFAs may also mediate blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity(4)
Some sources of monounsaturated fat include red meats, avocados, olive oil, nuts, whole milk, oatmeal, and popcorn.
Also knows as PUFAs.
PUFAs, like MUFAs, are thought to be healthy.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Most of the polyunsaturated fats in the human diet are also called essential fatty acids.
You may know them as omega-6 and omega-3. Much like the essential amino acids, the EFAs can’t be synthesized in the body. You can only get them from food.
Omega-6 fatty acids help with growth and cell repair, particularly after periods of physical activity. Some sources of omega-6 include nuts, poultry, eggs, whole grain bread, coconut, vegetable oils etc.
Omega-3 fatty acids assist in the maintenance of a healthy metabolism. Omega-3 can be found in eggs, meats, fish and fish oils.
As mentioned earlier, trans fats are uncommon in nature.
While some do exist naturally in meats and milk, the majority can be found in processed foods.
Some sources of trans fats include fried fast food, baked goods(packaged) and margarine.
You know, the healthy stuff.
To summarize, the only thing you need to know about trans fats is that they’re terrible for us. The more you avoid them, the better off you’ll be.
Recommended Fat Intake
So, how much fat do we need to eat?
According to what you’ve read up to this point, you may think that as long as you avoid trans fats, there’s no reason to limit your fat intake. And given how flavorful fatty foods tend to be, you’re probably happy about it.
However, I’m sorry to say that it’s not that simple.
If you’ve read my posts on protein and carbs, then you already know that each gram of either is equal to 4 kcal of energy. Each gram of fat, on the other hand, translates to 9 calories.
That’s more than double the energy! Overconsuming fat is one of the easiest ways to dramatically increase your caloric intake and pack on the pounds.
Generally, the recommendation is that 20-35% of our calories should come from fat.
Here’s an example so you can calculate how much fat you need:
A man with a daily caloric intake of 2500 kcal would need anywhere from 500 to 875 calories from fat (20-35%).
And since each gram of fat provides 9 kcal of energy, we’ll divide the above numbers by 9 to find out how many grams of fat this person needs.
Lower Limit: 500 / 9 = ~56 grams
Upper Limit: 875 / 9 = ~97 grams
And there you have it. This man should consume between 56 and 97 grams of fat daily.
To conclude, make sure to get your fats from a variety of animal and plant foods to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
Keep track of your total fat intake, and stay away from trans fats as much as possible.
And with that, the final part of the macronutrients 101 series comes to an end. You now have a basic understanding of how carbs, fats and protein work.
The rest is up to you. Stay on the grind.