A statement we often hear at Hustle is “I’ve cut down my fat a lot lately so why am I not losing any weight.” So let’s look at the facts and find out if fat really does makes you fat?
When we hear the word ‘fat’ our first thought usually turns to body fat but here we are going to be looking at dietary fat.
Fat has a bad press, to the extent that some foods are called ‘fat-free’. Over the years we have switched to low fat foods. But in doing so we have cut back on total fat in our diet and in many cases have increased our intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, so the swap has not made us any healthier!
So what is fat and why do we need it?
Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients and we do require some in our diet for optimal health. The problem is that fat has been vilified so much over the years that people are now scared to eat it. But do we really need to be?
Functions of fat:
- A source of energy. Fat is the most concentrated source of energy providing 9 calories per gram. This is more than twice the amount of calories provided by carbs and protein, each of which provide us with 4 calories per gram.
- Fat has a structural role in the body. For example, fats are part of the myelin sheath, which are found around nerve cells or neurons and our brains also contain a large amount of fat.
- Fat is a carrier for the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K and helps support their absorption in the body. If you follow a low-fat diet you may be deficient in these nutrients which is why an overall balanced diet is so important for optimal health and wellbeing.
- Fat provides essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA) and α-linolenic acid (ALA). These are considered essential fatty acids (EFA) because they cannot be synthesized in the body.
- Formation of steroid hormones.
- Helps keep us warm.
What types are there?
There are 3 main types of dietary fat: saturated fat, unsaturated fat and trans fat. The main difference is in their chemical structure and the number of double bonds that are present.
These tend to be solid at room temperature. Most of them come from animal sources such as meat and dairy products but can come from some plant foods such as palm oil and coconut oil. Foods typically high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, butter & ghee, cheese, cream, chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries & pies, coconut oil and coconut cream.
These are often labelled as the ‘good fats’, of which there are 2 types:
- Monounsaturated fat (MUFA)
- Polyunsaturated fat (PUFA)
MUFAs are found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, nut oils and their spreads, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.
PUFAs are found in oily fish, vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil & sunflower oil and some nuts & seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.
Trans fats have no known health benefits. They raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. Trans fats can also be labelled as ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ on food labels so check the list of ingredients. Current guidelines recommend that trans fats should be no more than 2% of energy intake. Artificial trans fats are mostly found in takeaways, fried foods and processed foods such as cakes and biscuits.
The good thing is that in the UK we eat about half that amount on average as a lot of food companies have removed hydrogenated oils from their products so we are well within the maximum recommendations. It is still worth taking a look at the ingredients list on any margarines and processed foods such as biscuits and cakes just to make sure they don’t contain any trans fats.
Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease
So now we have covered the basics in terms of what fat is and the different types, let’s look at where the fear mongering around fat, particularly saturated fat, has come from.
Saturated fat has played a key role in theories looking at diet and the risk of heart disease. It would make sense that if we eat less fat then there would be less of it in the body to block our arteries? And this in turn would reduce the risk of heart disease? But wait, it does not seem to be as simple as that! What we now know is that if we reduce saturated fat in the diet what we replace it with is even more important.
So our advice is rather than focusing on total fat intake, we should be looking at the type of fat we consume. It is clear from the evidence that reducing saturated fat and replacing it with refined carbohydrates does not reduce the risk of CVD. But if we replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat then this has been shown to have a positive effect on health and reduce the risk of CVD.
||Handful unsalted nuts
||Olive oil or olive/rapeseed oil spread
|Fatty and processed meats
||Chicken, turkey, good quality beef mince, white fish, oily fish, pulses, eggs.
||Hummus and vegetable sticks
|Cakes and coated biscuits
||Plain buns, scones and plain biscuits
|Cream based dessert
||Milk puddings, custard, yoghurt, fruit crumbles made with unsaturated spreads
|Savoury meat pies and pastries
||Potato topped pies
|Cream based curries
||Tomato and vegetable based curries
|Creamy salad dressings
||Salad dressings based on olive oil, rapeseed oil, nut oil or yoghurt
|Mayonnaise in sandwiches
Weight loss and fat
As fat is a concentrated source of energy it is important to consider the portion size for whatever type of fat you are eating, saturated or unsaturated.
Most of our clients come to us with a body composition goal in mind, whether that is fat loss or muscle gain. The first thing we often do is set a calorie and protein goal. How the rest of the calories are divided up varies a lot depending on personal preference, energy levels, recovery and any relevant medical issues so we cannot give an exact amount of fat to aim for as everyone will be different.
That being said, if you are looking for ways to reduce your calorie intake looking at the amount of fat you are eating might be an easy first step to help create a calorie deficit as we can often consume more calories that we think we do……
What does 100 kcals look like?
- 10mls olive oil (approx. 1 tbsp)
- 15g butter
- 15g full fat mayo
- 40g light mayo
- 15g peanut butter
- 50g avocado
- 15g walnuts or almonds
- 15g pumpkin seeds
- 80g tinned salmon
- 25g full fat cheese
- 150mls whole milk
- 190g 0% Total Greek yoghurt
- 110g 5% Total Greek yoghurt
- 17g Lindt 90% dark chocolate
Do we need to be scared of eating fat?
The answer is no!
No one food or nutrient is “good” or “bad”. While there is no need to avoid fat and saturated fats in your diet reducing them and replacing them with unsaturated fat has been shown to improve health.
As always, if you want any help or advice please complete the contact form below or click here to get started and we would be happy to help!