The Skinny on Fat
You need it. You crave it. You can’t live without it…yet, you hate it. You try to run from it, but it’s still behind you (or on your behind). There is simply no escaping fat in your diet or on your body. The question is, what kind of fats are the healthiest and how do you include more in your diet?
Fat is an essential macronutrient (carbohydrates and protein are the others) used by your body for energy and as a storehouse for vitamins vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat also plays a role in hormonal regulation, helps maintain healthy cell membranes and serves as protection for your vital organs. Current recommendations from the Institute of Medicine suggest adults obtain 20 to 35% of their daily calories from fat sources. If you consider that one gram of fat has 9 calories, a 2000 calorie per day diet with 25% of the calories from fat sources would have 500 calories from fat. Dividing 500 by 9 (calories per gram of fat) equals about 46 grams of fat, which would be included in food sources for the day. Please note, athletes or very active persons may skew to the high end of the 20-35% range, while sedentary individuals might keep their fat intake closer to 20% of their total calories in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Bear in mind, unless you are under a doctor’s orders to do so, dropping your daily intake of fat below 20% can be detrimental. The fat you do consume will come from saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated sources. Saturated fats come from animal sources and tropical oils (e.g., coconut, palm kernel) and should be kept to 10% or less of your daily caloric intake. Good sources for polyunsaturated fats are soy, corn, sunflower and safflower oils, while monounsaturated fats are found in olive, peanut and canola oils. Of course, an obsession with eating low fat or fat free foods can be a sign of disordered eating and may affect your well-being. This is not to mention an extreme low fat diet’s negative affect on energy levels and mood. Maybe it’s because food isn’t as tasty without a little fat.
Another reason you need to include enough fat in your diet is to provide the essential fatty acids your body cannot manufacture. Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, EPA and DHA) are good for your heart and can be found in canola and soybean oils, seeds, nuts and soybeans. EPA and DHA are the healthy omega 3s which come from salmon, sardines, tuna and shellfish. Consuming 10 ounces of fish a week may help you get all of the omega 3s you need, but try to eat lower mercury fish such as shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Omega 6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are abundant in the typical American’s diet and are found in grains and corn and safflower oils. Other good sources are leafy green vegetables, seeds and nuts.
If you think you’re a little too familiar with fat sources (if you know what I mean), you can lose some with the right kind of exercise. The energy you need to work out comes primarily from fat and carbohydrates. However, the body has a vast capacity to store fat, so at rest and during low-intensity exercise a high percentage of your energy comes from the oxidation of fat. As exercise intensity gets higher (above 70% of your maximum capacity) there is a gradual shift from fat to carbohydrates as the primary fuel. Now don’t misunderstand me, if you exercise more intensely you require more calories overall, but a higher percentage of them will come from carbohydrate sources. So, the skinny on fat is in order to lose it, you need to include healthy sources in your diet.