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Core Knowledge

Nutrition

Good Fats Versus Bad Fats

Overview

One of the biggest and more misleading health trends of the last 20 years has been the anti-fat movement. Everything had to be low-fat, preferably fat-free. “You are what you eat,” according to the popular saying, and if you ate fat, you are going to end up a fat tub of goo. Truth is, fats are critical to good health, releasing energy slowly to keep the body satiated and regulating blood sugar. They also provide powerful nutrients and antioxidants for cellular repair of joints, organs, skin and hair.

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  • Fats are critical to good health. 
  • Cell membranes are made of fat.
  • Fats release energy slowly, keeping the body satiated and regulating blood sugar and thus lowering your glycemic response to the other foods you’re eating.
  • Fats help you get from meal to meal without feeling as if you’re starving and they give your body some powerful nutrients and antioxidants for cellular repair of the joints, organs, skin, and hair.
  • Fats, especially those found in fish oil and flaxseed oil, also help with cognitive ability, mental clarity and memory retention. 

Saturated Fat Vs Unsaturated Fat

The difference in chemical structure of saturated and unsaturated fat produces significantly different effect on health. Saturated fats raise serum cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and pose a threat to your heart. Unsaturated fats do not raise cholesterol levels, and research indicates they actually reduce blood cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fats. 

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil and fish oils. Not all unsaturated fats are healthy though either. Vegetable shortening is also unsaturated, but when used to fry foods, it’s unhealthy. That’s because it contains trans fats, which raise bad (LDL) cholesterol but do not raise good (HDL) cholesterol. This artery clogging fat is found in processed foods such as cookies, crackers, pies, pastries and margarine. It’s also found in fried foods, especially those at fast-food restaurants, and in smaller quantities in meat and some dairy products.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids are defined as fatty acids that cannot be constructed within the body and must be obtained from the diet. The two classes of EFAs include omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

Broken down further, linoleic acid (LA) is an omega-6 fatty acid, and the three primary omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in liquid vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil, as well as seeds and meat. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) include soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseed. EPA and DHA are the omega-3 fatty acids that are contained in fish and shellfish. Oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring are higher in EPA and DHA than are lean fish like cod, haddock, and catfish.

The typical American diet has a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumption of at least 10:1. The ideal ratio is about 3:1 Omega-6 fatty acids are proinflammatory and prothrombotic, while omega-3 fatty-acids possess anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic and antithrombotic properties.

While both play important roles in our bodies, as some inflammation and blood clotting is necessary, studies suggest this high ratio promotes diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. This is where the buzz comes in: balancing your intake by increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption and maybe lowering your omega-6 fatty acid consumption can promote heart health and reduce inflammatory conditions.

To increase your omega-3 consumption, aim to have two to three servings of fatty fish per week or supplement with flaxseed or fish oil. Sometimes people will choose flaxseed oil to add to a shake or use as a dressing, while others choose a fish oil in pill form. Do not cook with the oil.

Even though these are all omega-3 supplements, they do differ. Plant based ALA is converted into EPA and DHA in the body. But the conversion rates vary from person to person. Therefore, people often choose fish-oil supplements because they have a higher concentration of EPA and DHA and provide them directly to the body, therefore possibly being more beneficial and effective.

If you are going to reach for a fish oil pill, which we recommend, try for 1 to 3 grams per day (1 to 3 grams is what is recommended by the American Heart Association). This normally equates to three pills per day, so just take one with every meal. The bottom line is that your body is not going to make this special fat, so if you are not getting it from the diet then you better be getting it from somewhere—and an easy somewhere is in a pill form.

The recommendation for EFA consumption varies depending on your total food and fish intake, as well as health conditions. Speak with your physician before taking any supplements, and be sure to call your supplement company to ask if they guarantee 100 percent purity for their supplements.

Keep in mind that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend total fat intake be kept to 20 to 35 percent of total calories consumed and less than 10 percent from saturated fat for adults. Fats and oils are part of a healthy diet; the type and amount of fat consumed is what makes the difference. So don't overdo it, but don't be afraid of fats either.

Nuts, Fish and Seeds

The best fats come from nuts, oils and seeds. Few foods have such an undeserved bad rap as nuts. As part of an anti-fat movement, people avoided nuts since they are high in fat.  But nuts and seeds are a good, convenient source of protein, fiber and positive fats, and they stick with you longer, helping control your blood sugar and appetite. 

A handful of nuts every day can lower your risk of heart ailments and Alzheimer’s disease.  You don’t want to scarf down an entire can of nuts, but a small serving is a good snack, especially if combined with, say, a glass of fat-free milk. A quarter cup (about the size you might get on an airplane) is a good serving size. 

Nuts also make a nutritious topping for salads and main courses. In a recent rating of nuts by Men’s Health magazine, almonds were found to have the most nutritional value, followed by cashews, pecans and macadamias.

The opposite of nuts getting a bad rap is yogurt having an undeserved good reputation.  Not all yogurts are created equal.  Fat-free yogurt often is loaded with empty calories and heavy in sugar, which will send your blood sugar level soaring.

A better bet is low-fat, low-sugar yogurt, which tastes better, sticks with you longer, and helps regulate blood sugar levels.  It can also be a good source of proteins and digestive enzymes.  Add in some extra-fiber, nuts or flaxseeds.  It’s also tasty when mixed with oatmeal.

Oils

  • Fish oils provide powerful omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have antioxidant properties and are essential for good cardiovascular health and mental clarity. These are found in salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and some types of white fish. Swordfish and tuna have fatty acids, though not as much as salmon.  Fish is a tremendous source of protein without the high saturated fats found in fatty meat products.
  • Everyone should have a bottle of flaxseed oil and fish oil in the refrigerator. The body can convert flaxseed oil into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, much like fish oil. A table spoon or two a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, is all you need, and it can go into a shake or on top of oatmeal.
  • Olive oil is another excellent choice for cooking. It has great antioxidants properties, is good for cooking and goes well with salads.

Tags: Fat, Supplements

References

  1. Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body and Your Life. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2004.
  2. Verstegen, Mark and Pete Williams. Core Performance Essentials: The Revolutionary Nutrition and Exercise Plan Adapted for Everyday Use. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2006.

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