Almost all nutritious food has fat in it. Fats are used for a variety of purposes including transporting vital nutrients to cells, assisting in the digestion of certain foods, and providing us with energy in times of nutrient depletion. To be healthy you can’t, and shouldn’t, stay away from fat. Still, we find ourselves asking: how much fat should I eat in a day? What are the pros and cons of eating low-fat or fat-free? What kind of fat should I be eating most? Which foods provide healthy fats and which foods will kill me quickly?
- current bodyweight
- dietary goals
- cholesterol profile
- activity level
- time of day
The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary fat to 30% of total calories. Take into consideration, however, if you are overweight, need to lower blood cholesterol, or have another medical concern, you may need less than the recommended 30%.
Let’s stop to consider all of the factors that go into determining how much fat we should eat.
Why Do I Need to Eat Fat?
Fats are vital to many of the body’s primary functions, specifically digestion and nutrient absorption. The main form of fat found in food and also found in the body makes up most of the body’s stored energy. You may have heard of these types of fats before, we call them triglycerides. When your body is at rest or performing an activity of low intensity, it generates most of its energy from free fatty acids, which are released from the body’s stores of triglycerides.
The calories in fat molecules (9 calories per gram) provide more than twice as much energy as carbs and protein (4 calories per gram). This is especially true in a glycogen-depleted state, in which the body turns to fat for nearly all of its energy.
Lipids (fats) in foods transport fat-soluble vitamins to the intestines. This facilitates the absorption of many vital nutrients such as A, D, E, and K. You risk developing deficiencies for some of these nutrients without an adequate amount of fat in your diet.
Eating foods that are high in fat helps us moderate our appetite through two means:
- fat satiates hunger; you feel more satisfied after eating when you consume a meal higher in fat
- since fat digests slower than carbs or protein, the presence of fat in the digestive system slows down the digestion process. This means a higher fat meal will stay in your stomach longer than a lower fat meal.
You might find yourself faced with increased hunger when your intake of calories from fat is reduced below 20% of total caloric intake.
Omega-3s and Omega-6s
These essential fatty acids, need to be ingested as part of the diet, as they cannot be manufactured within the body. These nutrients are the essential building blocks of compounds and molecules that are responsible for performing vital bodily functions such as helping blood to clot, immune system response, and blood pressure regulation. In women, the essential fatty acids also aid in healthy childbirth. The essential fatty acids can be found in foods containing soybean or canola oil, as well as in sardines, tuna, and salmon.
We also need to be aware that when fat is removed from most foods, the food manufacturers usually add carbohydrates in order to preserve a desirable taste and texture. Typically these carbohydrates are the worst kind of carbs for your body as they are mostly high-glycemic, processed refined sugars. Many low-fat and fat-free products remain energy-dense for just this reason since they still contain a high concentration of calories from carbohydrates rather than fat. I rant about low-fat and fat-free foods in another article.
We always need to remember that the source of our calories counts. Whether they come from fat, protein, or carbs we always need to be sure to use moderation when choosing portion sizes, even when eating fat-reduced foods. By now everyone is aware that the increasing variety of lower fat items is directly proportional to the American publics’ average weight going up, up, up. As I mentioned in my article about the hidden dangers of “healthy” foods, eating reduced-fat or fat-free is not the solution for weight loss. In fact, eating too many of these foods over the course of our childhood, teenage, and young adult years can often lead to nasty diseases such as adult-onset type II diabetes.
Why Should I Stay Away From Fat?
The answer is simple: you shouldn’t.
The folks that should really stay away from fat the most are those with high cholesterol, and even then, they should be sure to consume the proper ratio and amounts of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy. If you have been told by your doctor that you need to reduce cholesterol, you should attempt to stay away from pork, beef, and eggs. Also check labels often for cholesterol content, because something like a salad dressing might contain more cholesterol than you think.
If you are extremely overweight, you will probably want to go easy on the fat only because it is so calorie-dense. But in the same respect, if you are willing to bring your carbohydrate intake under 100 grams per day, then you should replace those lost carbs with protein and healthy fats.
When Should I Stay Away From Fat?
During the day you will probably want to stay away from fat late at night, and anytime near or around a workout. You want glycogen to be readily available, so you won’t want to slow down digestion by consuming fat before or during a workout. Doing so would also steal blood away from your extremities to send to the stomach to assist with digestion. It may sound petty, but every little bit counts. You also want to get fat-free glycogen back into the muscles ASAP after training. Therefore your post-workout shake should contain 0 grams of fat if possible. As usual, I recommend Biotest Surge as a post-workout drink.
In conclusion, we can say that fat is good. Deriving 30-40% of your daily calories from fat is acceptable. Try to eat healthy fats from fruits, veggies, fish, eggs, nuts, and canola/soybean/olive oil. Minimize trans fats and saturated fats, making sure not to eat fats that are solid at room temperatures like butter and animal fat. Try not to cook with fat either, since cooking healthy fats actually makes them unhealthy fats.
Eating a lower calorie, higher protein, higher healthy fat, lower carb kind of diet is one sure way to stay healthy and lose some weight. This is the type of lifestyle that can be permanent and effective!
For more information to help you decide how much fat should I eat, along with other macronutrient suggestions, check out these additional Project Swole resources: