Fat makes us fat, right? Wrong? Usually, with fitness, simple is better. Some examples:
- More protein + more calories overall + lifting heavy weights = muscle gain.
- Fewer calories overall + high-intensity exercise = weight loss.
- More aerobic exercise with your heart rate elevated = better cardio fitness.
So on that same ‘simple’ formula ‘more fat consumed = more fat on the body’ would make sense.
It’s not that simple. This article is set up to explain exactly how healthy fats can help you lose weight and give you a whole range of evidence and science-backed reasons why that’s the case. By the end of this piece, you’ll never think ‘eating fat will make me fat’ again.
Let’s get into it.
Fats Aren’t All the Same
Nutritionists and dieticians study for years to get qualified in their jobs. There’s a reason for that. Food and nutrition are complicated! Think about it; if it was just a matter of a bit of Google research to find out everything you needed to know, why would these bright, dedicated people devote years of their lives to understanding the topic in detail?
That’s true of fats, but there are many kinds of fats.
Real Fat Fats to Memorise
Here are some core facts about fat to read, then re-read
- Fat is a core part of the human diet.
- Fat is important for good health.
- There are different types of fats. Some are good for you. Some are not.
- If eaten in large quantities, fats can contribute to weight gain. But the same is true of carbohydrates and sugar too. A lot of anything = weight gain.
The reason excess fat can lead to weight gain is that it has more energy content per ‘unit’ than other types of food. Think of it like those fuels you see when you fill up your car with petrol. The lowest grade fuel is cheaper and has less energy per litre. Compare that to a ‘high octane’ fuel that is used to power an elite, precision-racing machine like a Formula 1 car. That fuel is incredibly energy dense and has huge amounts of energy per litre.
Fat is more like the fuel that goes in the F1 car. It has a lot of energy density.
The Fat Family Explained
The terminology that comes with food and nutrition can sometimes seem a little hard to comprehend. It might seem a bit silly, but with fat, it helps to almost give each different type a ‘personality’ that mirrors its use. The silliness of it helps the associations ‘stick’ in your mind.
- The Troublemaker (Saturated Fat) – The troublemaker is saturated fat. Too much saturated fat puts the person eating it at risk of higher blood sugar and high cholesterol. And those things lead to things like diabetes and heart disease. Not good.
Saturated fat is plentiful in fatty cuts of meat like beef and pork. Chicken skin is also a great (or not so great, depending on your point of view) source of saturated fat. Manufactured and highly processed foods like chips, muffins, fried food and pastries are also high in saturated fat.
The problem here is obvious. Saturated fats are delicious. So, while they might be a troublemaker, they are definitely a lovable troublemaker.
- The Mediterranean (Unsaturated Fats) – these fats take their ‘personality’ from the incredibly healthy diet that they are a big part of: the Mediterranean diet. These types of fats are hugely important as part of a healthy diet, and they counteract the ‘troublemaker’ potential of saturated fats by lowering the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats are abundant in oily fish like salmon, as well as many types of nuts like almonds, cashews and brazil nuts. And for anyone who loves a great brunch, the good news is that unsaturated fats are also right there in every avocado as well.
- The Zombie (Trans Fats) – these fats take their name from the fact they started life as healthy unsaturated fats but have been transformed through all sorts of human intervention into looking and behaving like saturated fats.
Basically, all of that processing means that the cholesterol levels go up after you eat it. That’s the opposite of what you want. Trans fats (like their name suggests) are undesirable and have been banned in many countries. They are typically found in many packaged goods, so keep an eye on food labels to help spot them.
Now that you can tell the difference between the types of fats with ease, we can look at how the good fats actually help you hit your fitness goals.
How Fat Helps You Burn Fat and Lose Weight
- Fat Saves You From Sugar Crashes – carbohydrates are plentiful in our diets and easy to consume in large quantities (think bread and pasta). But they also spike our blood sugar levels. Combining healthy fats with meals stops the stomach from emptying so fast. And, in turn, that means that our blood sugar doesn’t spike as much because our food digests more slowly.
- Fat is Satisfying – on a related note, that slower digestion that fat helps with has another obvious benefit: fullness. If you feel fuller for longer, you are less likely to consume more food. And the natural extension of that is fewer calories consumed. Fewer calories consumed + more calories burned (through exercise) = weight loss.
- Fat is A Great Sidekick – in superhero movies, the sidekick plays a supporting but key part in getting things done. Fat is like that in the body. There are a range of vitamins that our body needs to function well, such as vitamin D and Vitamin A. But just eating them isn’t enough. We also need to digest and absorb them. And fat helps our bodies do that second part.
- We’re Built to Eat Fat – going all the way back to the beginning, we are evolved to eat, digest and absorb the energy that comes from fats. Entire biological processes that take place in our body rely on the presence of fat to occur. And it’s why the ‘caveman’ diet that gets popular every few years is so high in fat – unprocessed, healthy ‘Mediterranean’ fat from fish, nuts, and avocado is key to good health.
Hopefully, you now feel like you know fat a little better. While it’s not as simple as just thinking ‘eating fat = getting fat,’ understanding the differences can help you eat more freely and also hit your training goals. To get even more high-quality information about your food and nutrition, be sure to look through the extensive resources we’ve got available for you!