In Defense of Fat

Generally speaking, the human body runs on three types of dietary nutrients: proteins, carbs and the infamous fats. Even though it is necessary to our health, though, fat tends to get vilified and targeted as the source of all of our health and fitness woes. Recent research suggests, though, that eating the right kinds of fats in the right balance can actually help to improve your health. So, let’s examine the role that fat plays in our bodies and how we can keep fat in its proper dietary role.


The Vital Role of Fat

All of the vital nutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrates – provide fuel in the form of calories. Interestingly, fat offers 9 calories per gram while the other two nutrients only contain 4 calories per gram. This means that fat is a much richer source of fuel for your body.

The fuel from fat has a specific purpose, though. While it’s true that fat, mixed with carbs, is used all the time for fuel. the ratio favors fat more and more heavily after long periods of exercise. The exact limit is different for everyone but most people switch more towards burning fat after about 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. So, for longer bouts of cardiovascular training, fat needs to be present in your body otherwise you risk your body turning on your muscles for fuel.

But fat is useful for much more than fuel. Fatty foods provide the essential linoleic and linolenic acids, which your body cannot produce on its own. Both of these acids help to control blood clotting and inflammation. They also contribute to healthy brain development.

At this point it’s important to draw the line between dietary fat and body fat, which is more correctly called adipose tissue. What we call fat on our bodies is the biological method for storing excess calories, whether they come from protein, carbs or fat. This means that fatty food isn’t necessarily responsible for the fat that you’re struggling to lose.


The Good and the Bad

In the most general terms, fat can be divided into two categories: saturated and unsaturated. Of course, these groups can be split down even further into several subgroups.

Unsaturated fats are the “good” fats and are actually connected with several health benefits. This group also includes poly- and mono-unsaturated fats which both help to improve overall cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol and prevent the formation of arterial plaque. These benefits fats are found in olives, most nuts and fish. The much-celebrated omega-3s also fit into this group.

The so-called “bad” fats are the saturated fats, which includes several different types. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats should only account for about 7 percent of your total daily caloric intake. Not only do these bad fats obviously have the opposite effect as good fats on cardiovascular health but, recent studies show that it could increase the risks of prostate and colon cancers. The infamous trans fats are classified as saturated fats. These unhealthy fats are found in fried foods, baked goods, red meat and diary products.


Timing Is Everything

A recently published study, conducted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem set out to test the effects of meal timing on body composition. For 18 weeks, a group of mice was fed a high-fat diet on a strict schedule where they had the same meal time and duration every day. There were also three control groups that had a low-fat, scheduled diet, an unscheduled, low-fat diet, and an unscheduled, high-fat diet.

By the end of the study, the high-fat group not only weighed less but there bodies had developed a different form of metabolism in which they burned dietary fat immediately and didn’t store it as fat deposits.

Although this study was conducted on mice and there are no parallel human studies, these findings do suggest that a properly controlled and maintained diet that includes fat can actually aid in weight loss. This information both clears the name of fats as a nutrient but helps to shed light on exactly what is a health diet.

Have you experienced the benefits of healthy fats? Please share your experience with us in the comments!




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.