It seems like low-fat diets never go out of style! And I always have to ask myself – why? I mean, fat tastes delicious – not only is it flavorful, but it gives everything a really nice mouthfeel (like your morning coffee!). And it’s a large part of the most scrumptious foods – think avocados, butter, eggs.
The universal attempt by dieters to remove fat from the diet has some clout. Fat does, indeed contain the highest number of Calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and protein. Fat contains 9 Calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins contain only 4 Calories per gram. So, if you cut out a significant portion of fat, you will indeed cut out a significant portion of Calories. Also, many foods that are high in fat are also undoubtedly “bad” or “unhealthy” for you. I prefer to say “less nutritious”. Things like full-fat dairy products such as ice cream and heavy cream, fried foods, and fatty cuts of meat like ground chuck are certainly less nutritious compared to their respective alternatives.
However, fat isn’t as bad as you think. Foremost, fat is required in the body for a number of things included, but not limited to the following:
Fat, or cholesterol is the precursor for sex hormone synthesis. Your sex hormones are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Ringing any bells yet? We need those guys!
Fat is also an absolutely essential component of the cell membranes (think lining of cells that holds everything in place) of every single cell in our body. The fatty nature of these cell membranes makes them fluid and allows things like nutrients to pass through when they need to.
Fat is a source of energy. Although it’s not the first source during exercise, if you are on a low carbohydrate diet, it likely is! The good thing about fat as a fuel source is that it burns slowly, so it literally fuels your day-to-day activities, like sitting at your desk to do work, brushing your teeth, etc..
Optimal functioning of our nervous system. Our brain and the stuff that wraps around most of our nerves (called myelin sheath) is made of fats! These fat allow for rapid and fluid transmission of impulses so that our nervous system can literally tell the rest of our body what to do.
Absorption and transport of fat-soluble vitamins. Our fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, E, D and K) are absorbed and transported to needy tissues by fats!
So, what gives? Fat has a ton of Calories and is in most bad foods, but I NEED fat for my body to function properly?! Yes, yes, and yes. But there are a ton of options!
Fat has a Ton of Calories
Although it is true that there are a lot of Calories in fat, all that you need to do is watch your portion sizes. This is tricky for most. Try this. Get your very favorite fatty snack. Most people may pick peanut butter or avocado. Without reading ahead, try to do the following:
Take out 2 plates or bowls
On the plate to the left, dish out what you would normally dish out from your favorite snack. For instance, put the amount of avocado that you would normally put on your salad on the plate. Or peanut butter. Or ice cream. Whatever it is.
Now, read the label and PROPERLY MEASURE the exact amount on the plate to the right. For example, for peanut butter, it’s 2 Tablespoons – this doesn’t mean ROUNDED tablespoons. You have to take a knife and drag it along the top of the measuring spoon. For something like an avocado, most say that 1/3 of an avocado is a serving size.
Now, step back and compare the difference in size of each of the portions. See where all of your extra Calories are coming from?!
Fat is in Most Bad Foods
This is certainly correct. However, it isn’t completely necessary to deprive yourself. Now, if it’s something like a McDonald’s burger, I would avoid it. But if you are craving some ice cream, take the time to meticulously measure out a proper serving, which is normally ¾ - 1 cup.
In “bad foods” we are mostly scrutinizing the content of trans-fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are those that are altered in the processing of the food – they can have some serious health implications if consumed chronically. There is quite a bit of debate over saturated fat being called a bad guy. Saturated fat exerts some of the above listed beneficial effects on our bodies. But if consumed in excess and without the addition of health-building things like physical activity and exercise, saturated fats may begin to accumulate and negatively affect our body. Here are some examples of good saturated fats, consumed in proper amounts:
As you can see, some of these things might be considered bad. However, just remember that you need to be mindful of portion sizes. And always, always remember to add in physical activity and exercise.
Don’t fear the fat! We need it! Not to mention, it’s delicious!