The Skinny on Fat


So now that we’ve talked about what a macro actually is and I’ve given you the scoop on protein, it’s time to talk about dietary fat, another third of the equation when it comes to calories and the macronutrients they are made of. Fat gets a bad rap. It is an easy scapegoat for the obesity epidemic and an easy target for food manufacturers looking to lower calories in foods.

Its name is fat after all, and that word is loaded in our culture.

Dietary fat does not make you fat though.

Admittedly, in the big picture it’s not quite as simple as the calories in, calories out equation, but at the end of the day we store ALL unused calories we eat (whether they are fat, carb, or protein calories) in the adipose (fat) tissue on our bodies.  So as tempting as it is to follow the logic of I-don’t-want-to-be-fat-so-I-won’t-eat-fat, cutting out fat is not the answer to improved health.  Balancing the sources of fat you eat is a much healthier, much tastier solution.

Dietary fat has important functions in the body, it is quite literally one third of the macro equation, and you are doing your body and brain a disservice by not eating enough of the right fats.

It also tastes good, which helps with feelings of satisfaction and satiety after a meal. It takes your body nearly twice as much time and energy to break fat down versus carbohydrates or proteins during digestion, so it can make you feel fuller, longer.  It helps your cells work to the best of their abilities and it is delicious.  Win win!

So, uh, what is dietary fat?

Chemically, fats are molecules made from carbon and hydrogen joined together in an organic compound called hydrocarbons. Just like protein can be broken into smaller pieces called amino acids, fat can be broken down in its simplest form into fatty acids. The way these hydrocarbons join together and hook up with other chemical groups determines whether they are formed into saturated fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids, both of which are vital to cellular function.

Dietary fat is an important energy source. It aids in the balance of various hormones, helps form our cell walls, aids in the formation of your brain and nervous system, and helps transport fat soluble vitamins throughout your body.

Your body can produce most of the fatty acids used for these various functions, but you must consume Omega 3 and Omega 6 in order to function optimally. These unsaturated fats help balance cholesterol levels and prevent disease so it is important you are consuming both each day, although the modern diet is often way out of balance when it comes to Omega 6 (found in things like corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, margarine, and corn fed meat), versus Omega 3s, the unsaturated fats found in plant and fish based products.

One thing for certain is that your body needs one or two sources of plant or fish based, unsaturated fat every day. An easy way to do this is to add a serving or two of avocado, olives, flax, or the oils made from coconut, fish, flax, avocados or olives to a salad or while cooking each day.

What does ideal fat intake look like?

As with most things when it comes to the moving target of fitness nutrition, the answer is it that really depends on your goals and your body. Fat is the most calorie-dense of the macronutrients; one gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, more than double the calories for one gram of carbohydrate or protein (both of which are 4 calories), so you get more bang for your buck when it comes to things like taste, digestion time, and levels of satiety. Generally, if your goal is to balance the macronutrients fairly evenly amongst say 2500 calories a day you would do the following calculation:

2500 x 33% = 825 calories from fat each day

825/9 = 91 grams of fat each day

Because consuming more Omega 3s is proven to improve health in many significant ways meeting those targets each day before deciding what the rest of the fat building blocks in your meals look like is a good strategy.

Favourite Fat Sources?

My favourite sources for saturated dietary fat include beef, whole milk dairy products, and bacon. My go-to sources for unsaturated fats include coconut, olive, and avocado oils, nuts, and cocoa. Yes. 100% cocoa powder is a fat source. You’re welcome!

What about supplementation?

As with the other two macros, it is ideal to be getting your dietary fat from your actual diet. That said, if you dislike fish an Omega 3 fish or flax oil is a fairly benign way to add it to your intake. Always discuss appropriate supplementation with your doctor or a trusted medical professional who knows your history and current health levels.

Next week we’ll talk about the final building block, carbohydrates. I’ll also be sending a newsletter out this week with instructions about how to put all this information together to build yourself a meal plan for fat loss, maintenance, or muscle building. Make sure you are on my list so you don’t miss it!

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