For many people the word fat has a negative ring to it, and more low-fat products are being marketed.
We tend to think fat in food is equal to body fat. However, this is a fallacy. Eating less fat won’t necessarily make you less fat!
No wonder people get confused.
If you’ve read my article on calories, you’ll know that fat has a higher energy density than carbohydrates and protein: 1 gram of fat is 9 kcal of energy – protein and carbohydrates are just 4 kcal. For those of you that workout, you all know how important it is to get enough carbs and proteins in your diet. Did you also know that fat is essential in order for your body to function?
In this article we’ll cover why it’s important to include fat in your diet – and I will give you some tips on some great sources of healthy fat.
Fat is more than an energy bearing molecule
Fat is important to your cells. All of our cells have a cell membrane made of lipids (fatty acids). Without eating fat, your cell membranes can get into trouble, both structurally and through influencing the enzymes that are present in the cell membrane. Nerve and muscular functions can also be influenced by lack of fat, giving the nerve cells problems sending the signals they should.
Too little fat will make it hard for fat soluble vitamins (A, K, D and E, respectively) and carotenoids to be taken up in the intestine. A lack of vitamin D will in turn lead to problems with calcium uptake and can even lead to osteomalacia. Also, too little fat can affect production of prostaglandins that regulates contractions and relaxation in our muscles, and plays an important role for our immune system.
A fatty acids which has been given a lot of bad PR is cholesterol. Cholesterol is necessary for a number of reason. It helps the fluidity of the cell membranes, inter-cellular transportation of molecules, and the signaling between cells and nerve cells. It is also important for production of gall, synthesis of vitamin D and a number of steroid hormones like estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and aldosterone – to name a few).
Impact on hormonal balance, and why low-fat is a bad idea
Without sufficient amounts of essential fat in your diet, several bio-chemical processes will suffer. Essential fatty acids are necessary to run a normal hormonal function and production. Too little fat can lead to hypogonadism – a condition where the testicles and ovaries won’t produce enough hormones, which in worst case can lead to sterility.
A low consumption of fat will lead to larger amounts of SHGB (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin). SHGB binds steroid hormones (testosterone, estrogen etc.) and prevents these from doing their job. An increased fat consumption will reduce the amount of SHGB, resulting a larger amount of free hormones (ref: Salinen et al.)
So, how much fat do we need?
This varies from whom you ask. A healthy answer is between 20-40% of your daily calorie consumption should be from fat. This is just a rule of thumb, but a good target.
What we eat varies from day to day, so some days you may get less, but think of it as an average.
Dieting and fat
What happens when most people go on a diet?
They reduce the overall amount of food (energy). A “fat burning diet” is typically structured like this: high protein intake, relatively high carbohydrate intake and almost no fat at all. The fat is what people reduce first. For some, the only fat they get through their diet is Omega-3 or similar supplements.
We mentioned a 20-40% bracket of your daily intake for fat above. What about when you’re on a diet? Should you change this? In my opinion, no. You could go down a bit towards the low end, but you should not go on a low-fat diet.
Good sources for fat
There are a number of good, and bad, sources of fat. To make life a little easier for you, I’ve gathered a list of fat rich items you should include in your diet.
- Coconut milk and oil
- Fatty fish (salmon and mackerel is great)
- Cheese (also a great source for calcium)
Fat is important for a number of processes in your body. Therefore you should aim to get at least 20% of your daily calorie intake from fat. There are diets that go lower, and for a short amount of time it is fine – but you need to consider the long-term effects if you eat too little fat over a long period.
Eating fat, won’t make you fat (just like eating vegetables won’t make you a vegetable)!
Are you looking for a diet that works with the principles in this article? Take a look here – that’s a diet program I’ve personally tried and can recommend.
If you like what you’ve read, please share this article so more people can learn the importance of including fat in their diet.
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