Dietary fats are important to give our body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect our organs. Fats help our body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too.
Fats are an Energy Source
Fat is the most energy dense macronutrient and it is also easily stored and transported within the body. The body can store unlimited amounts of fat, and excess carbohydrates and protein can be converted into fat, but they cannot be made from fat. It therefore serves as an excellent energy reserve.
Fats Play a Key Role in Managing Inflammation
Fat that is typically found in fish contains the essential omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to provide a number of health and performance benefits due to their highly anti-inflammatory properties.
From a health perspective these fatty acids appear to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, while from a performance aspect they can help to prevent muscle breakdown, enhance joint healing, improve brain function and achieve greater fat loss.
Reducing inflammation within the body is one of the best things you can do when seeking optimal body composition and health. It ensures you are working with the body, and not against it.
Fats Can Balance Hormones
It has now been proven that dietary cholesterol, such as that from fat, has little to no effect on cholesterol levels in the blood. In fact, quite the opposite can occur as a range of healthy fats can actually serve to improve our good cholesterol readings (HDL).
The benefits are clear and even the health authorities are accepting that monounsaturated fats can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and that essential fatty acids (Omega 3 & 6) are required for life itself.
Even the once vilified saturated fat is now being re-classified as ‘not so bad after all’, which is great as it’s necessary for proper cell membrane function.
Fats Form the Major Component of our Cell Membranes
Cell membranes, the outer walls of the cells, are partly composed of a specific type of fat called phospholipids.
Fats are High in Macronutrients
Many fats contain high levels of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. These vitamins are typically seen to be lacking within a low fat diet, yet are essential for maintaining good health and performance. Fat is also required to properly digest and assimilate these fat-soluble vitamins.
Fat is required for optimal cell function, and is a structurally integral part of every single cell membrane within the body.
Types of Fats
There are three major types of fatty acids. Their molecular bonds and the number of hydrogen atoms they contain distinguish these three types from one another.
We can then break this down even further:
Saturated fat: is a lipid that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. This means all available carbon atoms are occupied (saturated) by the hydrogen atom, unlike unsaturated fat. This makes them the most stable and least likely to turn into free radicals when exposed to heat, oxygen or light. This is why it is suggested to cook with these types of fats, so think grass fed butters or coconut oil.
While nutrition labels regularly combine the various saturated fatty acids, they do appear in different proportions among food groups. Lauric and myristic acids are most commonly found in ‘tropical’ oils or dairy products. Saturated fat in meat, eggs and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic and stearic acids.
Unsaturated Fat: are an important part of a healthy diet. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (among other health benefits) when they replace saturated fats in the diet.
Trans Fats aka bad fats: unlike processed saturated fats, hydrogenated fats are poisonous to the body. When consumed, these fats replace normal saturated fat in the cell membrane, and sometimes the essential fatty acids as well.
Hydrogenated fats have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. This is because they are proinflammatory in the body, reducing levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and increasing the bad (LDL & VLDL).
You should now understand the importance of fat in the human diet, how it is metabolized, how to measure quality, comparing the types of fat and debunking some of the myths that surround it. You don't have to cut fat from your diet. But be smart about the amount and type of fat you choose.