There is a ton of bullshit around the public about fats.
Some consider fat as the devil himself, while others think of fats as the healthy holy grail for longevity.
As with every nutritional topic – it is individual, but extremes miss the point nearly every time with enormous precision. Sorry, my ketos, frutarians and carnivores!
Some of the best-known myths are:
- Fats make fat
- Fats are unhealthy
- Fats kill your cardiovascular system
I think you too might have encountered many of these. May it be by your aunt suffering an eating disorder, your I-know-everything-better-friend, or the idiot at every gym who positions himself as a guru but knows less than John Snow.
Even health professionals act all too often on that outdated knowledge.
Fortunately, many of these myths have been crushed by science and instead, fats seem to be a beneficial macronutrient.
So – let’s make it better and update that Jane-Fonda-Era-Knowledge and look at fat. The No-Bullshit way.
Fats and their use as a macronutrient
Characteristics of fats
Fats are one of our three 1main nutrients.
Besides of carbohydrates and proteins, fats are our main energy resources, also known as macronutrients.
Every single nutrient has many uses, way beyond the simple usage of just burning it as fuel.
Nonetheless, the broad assumption that fats are rich in energy is true. 1g of fat equals 8kcal, while protein and carbs only grant half that energy per gram.
That’s why it is true to watch how many fats you consume. 10g or 30g of butter may look the same, but there are whopping 160kcal in between.
Fat ≠ Fat
Inside the big group of fats are three subcategories which can be split up even further.
That may sound really complicated, but it hasn’t to be that way. SO – stay with me!
There are two types of unsaturated fats: mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
You should consume a variety of both of them. They play a role in terms of general cardiovascular health and to avoid inflammations.
- Good examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids are nuts and fish. Fish oils even go further and are separately grouped as the well-known omega-3-acids*.
- You can find high quality monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil, seeds, and nuts.
Many of these fatty acids can be found in various vegetable oils, like canola or sunflower oil, too. But I would advise strongly against using them. We’ll take a precise look at that later on.
You can find these dudes in animal products and surprisingly everything made from coconuts.
There was a big fear of saturated fats.[efn_notes]I look at you 90’s and early 2000’s![/efn_note] These poor guys were accused of being one of the main contributors to strokes, coronary heart disease, and many more cardiovascular pathologies.
Fortunately, this isn’t that true anymore. In medicine, it is hard to blame one single fact for an outcome. It is more often than that a bunch of factors that contribute to the illness.2
So – don’t be afraid of butter or your nice tomahawk steak.
Instead of being seen by the incarnation of doom, research showed that saturated fats have positive benefits, too.3
Transfats are chemically processed vegetable oils often used by the industry because they are more simple to use.
They are the devil. Maybe science tells in 10 years otherwise – but I don’t think so. Transfats are by definition highly processed garbage. That can’t be healthy even in 10 years.
You can find transfats in margarine, frying fat and hardened fats.
Stay as far away from these products as you can. Don’t believe anyone, who tells you that margarine is great for your heart. Better shoot them instead. Or if you don’t like going to jail – walk away mid-talk.
Are fats healthy or not?
Why does my body need fat?
Your body uses fats for way more than fuel. It builds a lot of cool stuff from it.
Let’s have a look at which ones:
Fat as storage for energy
Your body is excellent at storing fat. I don’t think this is big news.
Us humans, we are perfectly adapted to starve and it might even be very beneficial. But in our society of too much, this leads to inevitable problems.4
Plus fat is a great heater. It keeps the warmth inside your body and can even produce heat by itself!
Fat as a building block
The most important point is that your body needs fats every day to build hormones and cell membranes.
I recommend to never eat less than 1g of fat per kg of bodyweight.
If you eat too few fats, you will get hormonal problems, especially when combined with a strict workout regimen.
Every bodybuilder who is in prep for a contest, or everyone who diets to strict will know that struggle. Go ahead and ask them if they are into sex at the moment. I guarantee you, if they are no nymphomaniacs, they will have problems to hiss their flag. They will shiver even in well-heated rooms, their hair quality will be awful and suffer a lot more hormonal-caused issues.
Fats as a solvent for vitamins
There are a bunch of vitamins, which can only be solved in fat. These few are vitamin A, D, E and K.
If you consume not enough fats, your body will have a hard time picking up and getting these vitamins out of your system.
How to use fats in your nutrition
How many fats should I aim for daily?
The general recommendation is roughly about 60-80g of fats per day.
I would go even further and say that you shouldn’t go below 1g fat per kg of body weight.
If you want to eat even more fats and therefore fewer carbs are totally in your hands and very individual preference. I personally like to eat more fats and eat carbs just for dinner, expect the daily chocolate in between.
The only thing to look after is your total calories.
You are only gaining weight if you eat more than you burn and vice versa. What you specifically eat is less important than you might think.
If you got problems with your weight, this is a whole nother story. But even when you want to cut calories, watch out for that minimum of 80g of fats per day.
Special case: Omega-3-Fatty acids
You should have an eye on these two omega-3-fatty acids*: EPA and DHA.
They are very important for your cognitive function and how your body responds to inflammatory processes.
More important than the sole fact of how many grams omega-3 you take, is the relation of omega-3 to omega-6 and omega-9 acids.
All these fatty acids are important but the problem with our modern nutrition is that we consume way too much omega-6 and omega-9 acids. That tilts the balance and promotes inflammations.
Fats ≠ unhealthy
As you know now – fats aren’t inherently unhealthy.
Solely, because unhealthy foods can make fat, fats aren’t unhealthy. Just because Adolf Hitler was a passionate artist, artists aren’t prone to genocidal thoughts. This is binary thinking at its finest.
But one thing, that every as general unhealthy seen foods have in common, is their composition. They all consist of a mix of:
- Quick digestible carbohydrates
- Saturated fats
- High in salt
- And have a strong umami taste
Avoid vegetable and processed oils
Marketers and misinformed nutrition coaches often claim that vegetable oils and margarine are a healthy alternative to traditional fats.
And that’s partly true! The fatty acids that they are made of seem quite reasonable. But at a second glance, you see that the problem is their high amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
They are essential for your body, but with such high amounts, you can quickly tilt that balance towards inflammation.
Try to avoid using vegetable oils, like canola oil and sunflower oil. Also avoid transfats in any case, like margarine and frying fat.
But there are no rules without proper exceptions! Exceptions from that are the very beneficial vegetable oils, like olive oil, linseed oil, pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil*
Don’t be afraid of fat fish or meat cuts
Don’t be afraid to eat saturated fats.
As we’ve talked about, they can be beneficial in some cases. See them most of the time as a simple and reliable energy source.
As long as you are in sync with your total calorie consumption and the calculated macronutrients out of them, you are totally fine.
Never, ever avoid a whole group of macronutrients.
Low-Carb, Keto and even Carnivore diets are trendy. They give you something to identify with, to extend your personality to it sometimes, but they can become dogmatic quickly.
These trends have one error in common. They avoid whole groups of macronutrients:
- Ketos hate carbs
- Low-Carbers hate carbs, too. Maybe not that much as Ketos.
- Carnivores love meat. And hate everything else there is.
While in the 1990 fats where the devil it shifts now onto the carbs. Poor carbs!
Who knows maybe in 10 years, marketing manages it to accuse protein of everything bad in the world. #proteinkillsyourkidneys
Therefore, don’t make the same error and keep your nutrition somewhat in balance. Don’t avoid one macronutrient completely. They all have their use for us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have adapted to eat them.
If you avoid something because you are convinced to save every little piggy there is. That’s totally fine. Ethics doesn’t have to be strictly logical. But just make sure to compensate for your loss in form of supplements.5
Cheatsheet: How to use fats, the right way!
- Never ever eat less than 80g fats per day.
If you like to eat more – feel free to go for it! But don’t eat less.
- Eat enough unsaturated fatty acids
Eat preferably nuts, olive oil, and seeds.
- Take 3g of fish oils or 1g of omega-3’s daily*.
You should be safe now.
- Fill your remaining fats as you like with healthy unsaturated and saturated fats.
Fats are your long-term energy resource. Avoid processed fats and vegetable oils.
Keep it simple!
Thank you for reading this quite long post!
The take-home message of this post besides the hard facts on fat would be that you shouldn’t chase every trend. Stick to the basics and you’ll be fine.
Now it is your turn! I would love to know how you treat fats in your very personal nutrition. Shoot me a comment on how you manage fats.
As you’ve read I am a big fan of these beauties. IMO – everything with butter or baked with cheese tastes two times better. Are you into fats, too? Or more the carb type of guy?
Queries and further reading recommendations:
- These two research articles by the NCBI are superb. The first one fights against some common myths and the second one is specific about cardiovascular disease and how fats relate to them. If you want to be a future fat-expert I can only recommend reading them.
- In these examine articles you’ll read everything about if saturated fats are bad for you, what fish oil is all about and what was truly behind the 90’s myth of ‘fats making fat’.
- You are curious what burns more fat? Low-Carb or Low-Fat? Don’t look further, read it here! (Spoiler: it doesn’t care)
- Or four if alcohol counts for you as a macronutrient.
- Part of the problem is that many generally as unhealthy considered foods contain a high amount of saturated fatty acids.
- One great example would be the antibacterial effects of Laurine acid, a saturated fatty acid that is found in high levels in all coconut products.
- There are more severely obese people in the world right now than starving people. Mind-blowing, but deeply trembling fun-fact. Nonetheless, this should be a reason to party!
- Some points for vegans to consider would be Vitamin B12, Fisch Oil, Zinc, Iron and Protein.