By Johan Muller
Boy, have we been conditioned to turn a cold shoulder towards dietary fats!
The low-fat and even fat-free rage of the last ten years has hit a wall.
Nutritionists are now taking a second look at fats and reforming previous
dispensation that, at one time, was expressed with absolute certainty. “Dietary
fat makes you fat” was the call of the day. Turns out, that declaration was
more than a broad brush bullying of all fat. Fact is, some fats are helpful and
even essential to the body.
In fact, some fats make you lean. That’s right. Some types of dietary fat, when
combined with a sound diet and weight training program, can contribute to a
Sure, adding butter to bread and eating marbled meats isn’t a good idea. The
extra fat will simply end up on your midsection, thighs and back, blurring the
sought after ‘defined’ look. In this sense, lowering your fat intake is a good
idea because controlling dietary fat helps you keep your total caloric intake
under control. As everyone knows, controlling calories is an important part of
getting lean. Therefore, extra lean ground beef is preferable to regular ground
beef, low fat dairy is a better choice than whole dairy products and substituting
low fat or fat free salad dressing for regular dressing are important steps that
help keep extra dietary fat and calories under control.
There are always exceptions to rules, including exceptions within the world of
bodybuilding and fitness nutrition. Skinny Fats are the exception and they’re
good for you. They include three key players in the campaign against body fat.
They are Essential Fatty Acids, Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Gamma linoleic
acid. Each works in its own unique way in coaxing the body to either burn
more fat or allow body fat to be burned as energy.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are just that: essential! The body cannot make
them so it’s up to you to get them on a daily basis. While essential fatty acids
are found in nuts, seeds and salmon, many athletes prefer to use an EFA
supplement to get their daily dose. Here’s what they do. Essential fatty acids
include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Don’t let the technical
names scare you. After all, we’re looking to see results – what they do.
Omega-3 exerts the following effects:
1) EFA’s help store glycogen
Glycogen is the storage unit of carbohydrates that is used to fuel your training.
The more glycogen you can store, the longer you can train. On top of that,
saturated glycogen stores directly effect muscle growth. The benefit: the
harder and longer you can train, the more calories you burn. Also, muscle
growth and size increase the metabolism, making you leaner. Simply put, the
more muscle you carry the higher your metabolism will become.
There’s more. We all know carbohydrates are a sticky subject: they fuel your
training, yet have the potential to make you fat. With the aid of essential fats,
the body tends to direct carbohydrates down glycogen storing pathways at the
expense of fat storing pathways. In essence, your carbs “go” into the muscle
instead of being deposited as body fat.
2) EFA’s help muscles retain glutamine.
Glutamine is the muscle friendly amino acids that help prevent muscle loss.
Omega-3 prevents the body from using up all its glutamine reserves which
translates into better recovery. Partial recovery leads to chronically elevated
levels of cortisol, the muscle chewing hormone that decreases muscle mass
which, in turn, lowers the metabolic rate.
3) EFA’s support the production of growth hormone, one of the
strongest fat-liberating hormones in the body.
Essentially growth hormone (GH) causes fat to be broken down and burned as
fuel. The fat phobic individual may miss out on essential fats and experience
less than optimal GH levels. So, he’s eating no fat whatsoever to lean down
only to short-circuit his GH levels!
Another part of essential fats are the group called Omega-6. These guys work
together with omega-3. You can’t obtain all the benefits of the former without
omega-6 fatty acids. The body needs about two times as much omega-6 as
omega 3 fatty acids so look for a supplement that not only includes both, but
contains twice as much 6 to 3.
Gamma Linoleic Acid. (GLA) This skinny fat does all kinds of beneficial
things. It fights muscle inflammation and supports the immune system, two
important components that help you recover and grow. From a fat loss
perspective, GLA is vital in supporting the production of two strong fat burning
hormones…Growth hormone, which I already touched upon, and thyroid
hormone, the chief calorie burner in the body.
Dieters and those hoping to ‘rip up’ often engage in strict low calorie diets or
hours upon hours of cardio exercise to strip excessive body fat from the body.
Both can cause thyroid levels to actually plummet! And a lack of GLA in the
diet could facilitate that plunge. There’s also some nifty research that indicates
a group of female dieters supplementing with GLA lost more weight over a 6
week period than another group eating the same caloric intake. The latter
group, those who loss less weight, did not use GLA.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is the new kid on the block and the research
seems to indicate it helps lead to a leaner body. While researchers can’t be
100% sure exactly how CLA works, they speculate it helps open up tiny little
gates located on fat cells which, in turns, allows body fat to be burned. These
gates – a hormone actually- called hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) seems to be
triggered with the dietary inclusion of CLA. Interestingly, CLA is found in some
of what might be considered ‘very fatty’ foods including pork, beef (the high fat
type!) and whole milk. The advantage of using a concentrated CLA supplement
is that you get all of the CLA with none of the added calories.
ALL ABOUT FATS
Fat, fat, fat! Would all of our weight loss problems be solved if we just
eliminated fat from our diets? Unfortunately, it's not that simple. We actually
need fats -- can't live without them, in fact. Fats are an important part of a
healthy diet: They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-
soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel. But it's easy to get
confused about good fats vs. bad fats, how much fat we should eat, how to
avoid artery-clogging trans fats, and the role omega-3 fatty acids play in heart
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get 20%-35% of their
calories from fats. At a minimum, we need at least 10% of our calories to
come from fat.
The problem is that the typical diet is higher in fat: Roughly 34% to 40% of
our calories come from fat. Why? Because they taste so good and are widely
available in our food supply. Fats enhance the flavours of foods and give our
mouths that wonderful feel that is so satisfying.
Does Dietary Fat Make You Fat?
So you might assume that fat is to blame for the obesity epidemic now
plaguing our nation. Actually, fat is only part of the problem. Obesity is much
more complicated than just overeating a single nutrient. Eating more calories
-- from fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol -- than you burn off leads to
weight gain. Simply put, people who get little physical activity and eat a diet
high in calories are going to gain weight. Genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle also
weigh into the weight-gain formula.
That said, dietary fat plays a significant role in obesity. Fat is calorie-dense, at
9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have only 4 calories per gram, and
alcohol has 7 calories per gram. It's easy to overeat fats because they lurk in
so many foods we love: fries, processed foods, cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice
cream, thick steaks, and cheese.
And eating too much fat does more than expand our waistlines. Our love affair
with fat has helped to trigger an increase in the rates of type 2 diabetes,
certain cancers, and heart disease.
Choosing the right types of dietary fats to consume is one of the most
important factors in reducing the risk of developing heart disease. But while
choosing healthier fats is better for your heart, when it comes to your
waistline, all fats have about the same number of calories. And cutting the
total fat in your diet not only helps you shed pounds, it can also help you live
longer and healthier.
Eating less total fat will not directly lower your cancer risk, but it will help you
control your weight -- which in turn can reduce your risk of cancer.Basically,
there are two groups of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Within each group are
several more types of fats.
Let's start with the good guys -- the unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats include
polyunsaturated fatty acids and mono unsaturated fats. Both mono- and
polyunsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated
or trans fats, can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart
Polyunsaturated fats, found mostly in vegetable oils, help lower both blood
cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels -- especially when you substitute them
for saturated fats. One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids,
whose potential heart-health benefits have gotten a lot of attention.
Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), as well as
flaxseed and walnuts. And it's fish that contains the most effective, "long-
chain" type of omega-3s. The American Heart Association recommends eating
2 servings of fatty fish each week.
Plant sources are a good substitute for saturated or trans fats, but they are not
as effective as fatty fish in decreasing cardiovascular disease. Do keep in mind
that your twice-weekly fish should not be deep-fat fried!
It is best to get your omega-3s from food, not supplements, except for people
with established heart disease, there is no data to suggest omega-3
supplements will decrease heart disease risk.
The other "good guy" unsaturated fats are mono unsaturated fats, thought to
reduce the risk of heart disease. Mediterranean countries consume lots of
these -- primarily in the form of olive oil -- and this dietary component is
credited with the low levels of heart disease in those countries.
Mono unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but solidify if
refrigerated. These heart-healthy fats are typically a good source of the
antioxidant vitamin E, a nutrient often lacking in American diets. They can be
found in olives; avocados; hazelnuts; almonds; Brazil nuts; cashews; sesame
seeds; pumpkin seeds; and olive, canola, and peanut oils.
The 'Bad' Fats in Your Diet
Now on to the bad guys. There are two types of fat that should be eaten
sparingly: saturated and trans fatty acids. Both can raise cholesterol levels,
clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease.
Saturated fats are found in animal products (meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy,
and eggs) and in vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as
coconut and palm oils. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting
saturated fats to 10% or less of your total calories, while the Heart Association
recommends keeping them to just 7% of total calories.
I recommend using liquid vegetable oils in place of animal or partially
There is evidence that saturated fats have an effect on increasing colon and
prostate cancer risk, so we recommend whenever possible to choose healthy
unsaturated fats -- and always strive to be at a healthy weight.
We're also hearing a lot these days about trans fatty acids, or trans fats. There
are two types of trans fats: the naturally occurring type, found in small
amounts in dairy and meat; and the artificial kind that occur when liquid oils
are hardened into "partially hydrogenated" fats.
Natural trans fats are not the type of concern, especially if you choose low-fat
dairy products and lean meats. The real worry in the American diet is the
artificial trans fats. They're used extensively in frying, baked goods, cookies,
icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some
Some experts think these fats are even more dangerous than saturated fats.
Trans fats are worse than any other fat, including butter or lard.
Research has shown that even small amounts of artificial trans fats can
increase the risk for heart disease by increasing LDL "bad" cholesterol and
decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA)
recommends limiting trans fat to less than 2 grams per day, including the
naturally occurring trans fats. The Dietary Guideline simply recommend
keeping trans fats consumption as low as possible.
Still, eliminating trans fats is not a magic bullet, experts say.
"Trans fat is getting lots of bad press, but it is important to keep in mind the
'big fat picture,' which includes lowering total fat, reducing saturated fat, and
engaging in an overall healthy lifestyle," cardiologist Robert Eckel, MD, tells
Which Fat Is Which?
Most foods contain a combination of fats but are classified according to the
dominant fat. This chart lists sources of the good-for-you unsaturated fats as
well as some examples of fats you want to avoid.
Saturated Fats or trans Mono unsaturated
fatty acids Fats
Butter Corn oil Canola oil
Lard Fish oils Almond oil
Meat, lunchmeat Soybean oil Walnut oil
Poultry, poultry skin Safflower oil Olive oil
Coconut products Sesame oil Peanut oil
Palm oil, palm kernel oil
Cottonseed oil Avocado
Dairy foods (other than
Sunflower oil Olives
Partially hydrogenated oils Nuts and seeds Peanut butter
Read Labels and Make Better Choices
The best way to keep on top of the fats in your diet is to become a label
reader. On the nutrition facts panel, you'll find all the information you need to
make healthful choices. Look for foods that are low in total fat and well as in
saturated and trans fats. Bear in mind that a product whose label boasts it is
"trans fat free" can actually have up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving --
and these can add up quickly.
Here are more tips to help you reduce the total amount of fat in your diet and
make sure the fats you consume are the healthy ones:
Choose a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Try a vegetarian meal, with plenty of beans, once a week.
Select dairy products that are skim or low-fat.
Experiment with light and reduced-fat salad dressings.
Replace fattier sauces with vinegars, mustards, and lemon juice.
When using fats, do so sparingly. Try to use unsaturated liquid oils, such
as canola or olive, instead of butter or partially hydrogenated margarine.
Limit your consumption of high-fat foods, such as processed foods, fried
foods, sweets, and desserts.
When cooking, substitute the lower-fat alternative (for example, low-fat
sour cream or low-fat cream cheese) whenever possible
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