Eating fat is bad, right? At least that’s what you’ve been told your whole life. Contrary to popular belief, dietary fat is not bad for you. Yes, some fats can cause adverse health effects over the long term, but healthy fats are highly beneficial.
In addition, a healthy amount of body fat isn’t bad either. Your body needs fat to function and you would not survive long without it.
What is fat?
There are two types of fat: body fat and dietary fat. Body fat is adipose tissue. It stores energy from lipids and serves to insulate your body and aid in hormone production. A certain amount of fat is needed for necessary bodily functions, but too much body fat can lead to health problems.
Dietary fat can be broken down into two main categories:
- Saturated fat
- Unsaturated fat
Beyond that, unsaturated fats can be further broken down into monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats.
Dietary fats: Good vs. bad
Saturated fats take a lot of heat for being unhealthy. This generally-accepted fact comes from a flawed study. The truth is, saturated fat can actually help white blood cells fight sickness, increase free testosterone, encourage healthy liver function, and provide the body with energy. Saturated animal fats contain a lot of essential fat-soluble vitamins as well.
Unsaturated fats — typically viewed as the healthier fats — come in a few different forms: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. Increasing levels of monounsaturated fat in the diet has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, contribute to heart health, and lower blood pressure.
Polyunsaturated fats have been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes, regulate inflammation within the body, and signal to your brain when you are full. They also contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) like omega-3 and omega-6 acids, which help the brain function properly, regulate blood pressure, and aid in skin and hair health.
Most trans fats get a bad reputation for good reason. The majority of these fats are not common in nature. Instead, they are created through artificial processes and can increase the risk of heart disease.
Where do dietary fats come from?
Eat more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, but don’t shy away from either. The best sources of saturated fat are:
- Animal fats
- Full-fat dairy
- Grass-fed beef
- Whole eggs
- Coconut oil
Sources of unsaturated, monounsaturated fats include:
- Olive oil
- Nut butter
Polyunsaturated fats sources include:
- Fatty fish
- Nut butters
Body fat: What is its purpose?
Like nearly any feature of our bodies, fat serves a purpose — it doesn’t just sit there and try to make us look bad. Without it, we might encounter some problems.
Fat insulates the body, cushions your organs and keeps women’s menstrual cycles regular. Fat is also necessary for energy metabolism. After your body has used all of its energy from dietary sources, it turns to its fat stores for energy.
How much body fat do I need?
How much fat your body needs depends on whether you are a male or a female. Men can generally function well with lower levels of body fat than women due to the fact that their bodies are not designed for child-bearing.
Men can function with as little as 3% body fat, although this is not ideal. Depending on age, a man’s body should ideally have between 8% and 25% body fat. Women can function with as little as 9% body fat, but this is far from ideal as well. Depending upon age, women should have anywhere from 20% to 38% body fat. That said, the average level of body fat for men is 13% and 28% for women.
The big FAT picture
Fat is not the devil. Eating fat will not make you fat, but eating too much of it will. If you are following a low-carb diet, the percentage of fat in your diet can be up to 50-60% but the majority of the rest of your calories should come from protein. If you are following a standard diet, keep fat intake around 30-40% of your calories.
Don’t be afraid of having a little body fat. It’s normal and it’s necessary for your body to function optimally. Make smart health choices and be honest with yourself if you know you have too much body fat.
Most important of all, keep learning, keep exercising, keep eating healthy foods and keep using 8fit!