Let’s talk dietary fat, yep the fats we eat. For decades the media has demonized fat, telling us that too much fat would give us a heart attack and make us gain weight. Well, it turns out they based this on limited studies and inaccurate statistics. The truth is that processed carbs are the bigger player here! But this post is not addressing processed carbs (I’ll save that for a later post). In this post I’m going to explain why our body actually needs fat in order to properly recover from hard workouts, optimize our metabolism, hormones, and our overall health.
Fats play a number of roles in the body, but here are three key roles that I think are most applicable to active adults:
- Fats provide a source of energy, especially for endurance type (low heart rate) exercise
- Fats act as a building block for cell membranes and hormones which help to regulate inflammation
- Fats aid in absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K – all which support immune function
There are three types of fatty acids – saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – and we need all types, yes, even the saturated fats! In fact, saturated fats should be around 30% of total fat intake. Monounsaturated fats (Omega 9’s) should be the highest consumed at ~60%. And Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 & 6) should be around 10% of total intake. Saturated fats are those mostly found in animal fats as well as tropical oils. Monounsaturated fats are avocado and extra virgin olive oil as well as nuts like almonds, cashews, and pecans.
Despite (ideally) being the smallest percentage of our total fats, polyunsaturated fats deserve a little more attention. These fats are often identified as Omega-6 or Omega-3 fatty acids and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should ideally be consumed in a 2:1 ratio. Unfortunately, in today’s world of processed foods and inflammatory oils, we can see ratios as high as 20:1! Read those labels on your crackers, cookies, cereals, and even “healthy” products. So many are using canola, soy, or corn oils – and its actually quite hard to avoid them if not making a conscious effort. Corn oil has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 46:1!!! Remember, your average ratio should be 2:1! Read on to understand why this is so important…
Some Omega 6 & 3 fatty acids are actually good for you. Here are some examples of healthy Omega 3 and 6 oils:
- Omega-6: sunflower oil, sesame oil, and safflower oil
- Omega-3: fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts or oil, pumpkin seeds or oil
These oils should be produced from organic sources and cold pressed; not by using high-heat industrial processing which cause these oils to go rancid before they even hit the grocery store shelves.
A balance of all three fatty acids help to control inflammation throughout your body because they are all precursors to the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. There are two anti-inflammatory and one inflammatory prostaglandin, and you need all three to heal from various stress and injuries since they control inflammatory function.
Its worth noting that in order for fats to be properly converted into these important prostaglandins and to do their job, your digestion, liver, and enzymatic function all need to be working properly. This is why my last post was dedicated to proper digestion.
Inflammation is something that I think most physically active folks understand well. Anyone ever feel sore after a hard workout?! That’s the body inflaming an overworked area to shuttle more blood flow there to allow for healing to happen faster. After the initial inflammation, the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins come in to help calm the system. This is the cycle of healing.
So you are probably wondering where to start? If you are like many who think the low-fat diet is the answer to health, but you are still struggling to lose weight and feel your best, its time to try something old. Yes, I said old, because this is going back to a more ancestral approach to eating which utilizes a mix of fats in the diet!
Here are a few easy ways to incorporate some healthy fats into your meals without following recipes or meal plans:
- If you typically steam veggies, rub them with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or melted tallow and sprinkle with salt – roast them in the oven at 375F until lightly browned and tender
- Opt for chicken thighs over chicken breasts (skin-on is even better)
- Make your own salad dressings or mayo using avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
- Fry your eggs in grass-fed butter or ghee
- Snack on nuts and seeds
Try eating this way and see if you feel any different. Do you feel satisfied for longer after a meal? Do you feel like you recover faster after big workouts? How is your mood and digestion?
Speaking of digestion, be sure to start slow. If you eat a very low-fat diet right now, your body will need some time to adjust, so take baby steps. But I think you will find yourself reaching for those frequent snacks less often and will feel more balanced!
Need more support in your efforts to improve digestion and get more fat? Let’s work together!