Fat has has a history of being vilified as the enemy of health. How much fat to eat is not normally addressed with the focus for a long time being simply about trying to eat as little as possible. Fat, like Protein and Carbohydrate cannot be looked at in isolation of the other two nutrients and also without being addressed under the banner of total calorie intake.
What fat represents is a type of molecule that cannot dissolve in water. This gives it different properties to other food elements and allows it to transport nutrients that dissolve in oil and not water. It is hard to discuss fat without going all chemistry on you about what this means. At a basic level fat represents the only way to deliver certain vitamins and minerals into the body. Fat is termed calorific because each gram of fat has around 9 calories in it, while each gram of carbs or protein has around 4 calories.
There are different fats as I am sure you are aware, their main difference is all down to their chemical structure and the prescience, position and/or lack of what is called an unsaturated bond (we are back to chemistry talk). This gives us saturated fat, which used to be deemed ‘evil’ even though it often presented in nature as found in animal fats, eggs, breast milk, dairy and coconut oil. We also have unsaturated fats such as nuts, the fat within an olive or the olive oil extracted from the olives themselves. There are subdivisions within unsaturated fat that refer to how many bonds the chemical form has, e.g. monounsaturated (1 bond) vs polyunsaturated (more than 1 bond) and if it has a special type of chemical bond called a triple bond, this gives rise to the Omega 3 and 6 oils. The position of the bond, length of chain and structure give rise to further subdivisions such as trans fats, short to long chain fatty acids and so forth.
There are different schools of thought and divided research on the effects of different fats. Some people go towards the natural more stable form of saturated fat pointing out it is not affected by heating and present throughout nature. Others direct their attention to unsaturated forms from nuts and the ‘essential’ Omega acids. In typical nutrition sense, people argue back and forth questioning the basis upon which each others’ claims are made.
The result now is most people talk about “good” fats and “bad” fats and this covers both philosophies above and thus really is an absolute nothing statement. If you press further most people will be either anti saturated fat or anti unsaturated fat. I lean towards the saturated fat side, but as you will see below, if body composition is the main goal then most of the fat issues get resolved as a by product of macro ratios and calorie intake. This means the fat debate comes down to a smaller choice of certain foods.
The literature shows a large variance in fat intake between certain individuals. The is idea our genetics vary slightly so that one person needs different macro nutrients compared to the another. This variance would have originally come from adapting to the different food groups before us in times before travel and haulage when we could only eat food local to us.
One study showed the Inuit Eskimos had a diet of over 2600 calories per day with fat intake at 154 grams per person (from memory as can’t find reference….oops). These people are used to represent the most “fat needing” genetic nutritional group. The other end of the scale has seen people eating a fruit diet with almost zero fat which is also found within some popular and famous diets (Jenny Craig, Ornish). Studies on athletes have delivered over 50% of their calories through fat showed no detrimental outcomes.
The point is that we have varying nutritional needs for fat intake. However this can only be viewed as part of the bigger picture of calorie intake and other macro nutrients.
Fat, Hunger and Food Cravings
Fat is another important element for controlling hunger. The underlying base of controlling hunger is to ensure you have met your minimum thresholds in total calorie intake for the day(s) beforehand. If too low on these thresholds, hunger and cravings will rise significantly. To this point you must also meet your minimum carbohydrate requirements. Assuming they are in place then protein and fat become almost interchangeable as a tool for controlling your food desires. Protein seems to be slightly more effective for fulfilling hunger all else being equal but fat also is a powerful tool. For circumstances where eating adequate protein is not possible or practical then fat intake becomes the next best option for controlling hunger and cravings. A diet deficient in fat will also lead to an increased appetite.
There are two methods most people base fat guidelines upon. They both rely on knowing how many calories you are eating per day.
Fat Intake Method 1 – Macro Nutrient Ratios
One way to determine fat intake is through assigned percentages for Protein, Carbs and Fat. for example, the upper level of government guidelines suggest we have Protein 15%, Carbs 50% and Fat 35%. This means for a 2500 calorie diet (‘Ideal’ for Men) fat intake would be 97 grams of fat per day with no more than 30 grams from saturated fat. For 2000 calories (‘ideal’ for women) that would be 78 grams per day and no more than 25 grams from Saturated fat. Recent studies which were on the front pages have claimed that the saturated fat limits were wrong and they could be higher.
If you are on a traditional bodybuilder diet at Protein 40%, Carbs 40% or fat 20% then 2500 calories would need 56g of fat, 2000 calswould need 44g
The Inuit diet was seen to be Protein 30-35%, carbs 15-20% and Fat 50%. For a 2500 calorie diet this would give 139g of fat, 2000 cals would need 111g
Fat Intake Method 2 – Grams Per KG Intake Levels.
The second method is to use the formula for how much protein and carbohydrate per KG body weight you need then ensure you hit your goal calorie number by filling the remaining gap with make the fat intake.
For example, if you weigh 70 kg and need 2500 cals per day and based on activity levels you choose to eat 2g/kg body weight protein and 5 g/kg carb this will give you 140g protein and 350g carbs. That is 560 calories from protein and 1400 from carbs. This leaves 540 calories to come from fat to make up the diet to your 2500 calorie goal. to get 540 calories from fat would need to eat 50g’s worth.
Fat – Body Fat Losses and Body Fat Gains
The myth for a long time was that eating fat lead to being fat, having high cholesterol and heart disease. All of these have been debunked fairly effectively by numerous different sources. The number one determinant for fat loss is the ratio and balance of food consumed vs movement. The macro ratio you eat with is directly correlated to food cravings and this is normally the factor that influences how many calories you actually eat within a day.
Fat – Muscle gain, loss and Health.
Fat affects both muscle gain and health from providing key nutrients used in the anabolic and health processes within the body. Fat also represents a key source for meeting calorie demands. It can be very hard to meet nutritional needs through just protein and carbs as in general they fill you up when eat larger quantities of food. Fat allows you to get more energy into the body while eating less volume of food per se.
Fat and Real World Applications
Like this whole series on Protein, Carbs and now Fat the real world applications only really come into play if you start monitoring food intake. For most this is not applicable nor necessary for results. The issue most people have with fats is that it is so easy to overeat because they are so dense. Just 100 grams of nuts will supply in excess of 500 calories and over 40 grams of fat. For most people they can snack through some nuts without even thinking about it which on top of their normal meals means fat loss is very hard.
The main question would be do you need to add an external fat onto the meal, in some cases yes while others no. If you are looking for a relatively high fat intake yet eating low fat proteins such as tuna and chicken breast adding in oil (olive, coco nut, butter etc) would aid in hitting your targets (though alternatively you could add nuts). If your fat intake is more moderate or you use a lot of fatty proteins such as lamb, steak with trimming etc then you will not need to add extra fat. For my clients a huge issue is getting enough taste per meal. Sometimes this taste element may provide the fat element, e.g. hummus.
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