I generally don’t like them because they tend to do more harm than good.
When folks ascribe to a particular ideology or way of thinking, they tend to cease viewing the world in an objective way.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short amount of time on this earth, it’s that very seldom are things either completely one way or the other.
In all realms of life there are points to be made for why a particular philosophy is better than another.
The fact of the matter is, however, that there wouldn’t be an opposing theory if said philosophy worked 100% of the time.
Take politics and religion, for example:
Laissez-faire capitalism is great when people are doing business with other people; a little bit of government regulation is probably a good idea, though, when multi-billion dollar corporations threaten the free market with monopolies over goods and services, and banks labeled “too big to fail” irresponsibly gamble with people’s hard earned capital.
Most religions have a great deal of wisdom in their teachings; but when folks start denying rights to fellow citizens, or ignoring what modern science is showing us about the disastrous effects we’re having on our planet—or worse, killing in the name of their god, that’s when we start having problems.
Ideological extremism should be avoided in any and all domains of life—this includes nutrition.
One of the first questions I am asked when folks find out I’m a personal trainer is, “What diet are you on?”
As a teenager, and even throughout my first few years as a personal trainer, I fell into that trap.
I bounced from diet to diet, and regardless of what flavor of the month I was on, I adhered to each as vigorously and dogmatically as any politician or religious zealot clings to their principles.
While I achieved some kind of results on each; I also caused a bit of unnecessary harm to myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.
I was still “healthy” throughout this time, but I definitely hindered myself from feeling and performing my best.
There is no greater teacher than failure, however; and with failure comes experience and maturity.
Though I have made mistakes before, I have come to see the error in my ways.
That is why I decided to write this 3 part series.
I will discuss the three main macro nutrients in detail; give you the latest information available on each; and explain what the science actually shows is healthy, unhealthy, or irrelevant.
I’m not interested in diets; nor I am I concerned with the dogma surrounding them.
The only thing I am concerned about is the foods I should be eating to look, feel, and perform maximally.
I invite you all to throw out your ascribed label: Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo, Low-Fat, Low-Carb, Weight-Watcher, Ketogenic, Atkins, Dukan, South Beach , Gluten -Free, Blood Type, Raw-Food.
Reject nutritional extremism and come with me on this journey to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what you’re eating that may actually be harming you.
Healthy Fats –
What is a “healthy” fat?
A healthy fat is any fat found in nature – simple.
Fats are essential to our survival, and if you want to feel and perform your best, you need them in your diet – from ALL sources, including animals.
They are the body’s preferred source of energy for low-level aerobic activity and a vital nutrient required for the construction and maintenance of “structural” elements like cell membranes.
Certain vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, which means that they can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with dietary fats.
Fats are the most dense of the the three main macro’s, and contain 9 calories per gram.
To keep things as simple as possible, and for the purpose of this post, we will break up our fats into four groups:
Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, Saturated, and Trans fats.
Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados and nuts as well as in oils like olive and flaxseed.
These fats are made up of a single double bond in their fatty acid chain, hence the name.
The more double bonds a fat contains, the more “fluid” they tend to be, and therefore, monounsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature.
They go rancid or “oxidize” very easily and should not be heated.
These fats are generally considered healthy and were made popular by the “South Beach” and “Mediterranean” diets.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in grain products, soy products, and animal products.
They contain more than one double bond in their fatty acid chain and they tend to stay liquid even when refrigerated.
They also go rancid extremely easily and should be kept away from heat, including direct sunlight.
Within the Polyunsaturated category lies a subcategory – Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) – namely, Omega 6 and Omega 3.
They are called “essential” because our bodies cannot produce them on their own; We must obtain them from food.
Omega 6 –
These fats can be found in nuts and grains, as well as in grain fed livestock and fish.
While they do play a crucial role in certain bodily processes, if over consumed they can lead to systemic inflammation.
Omega 3 –
By now you’ve probably already heard that Omega 3 fats are “good for you.”
These fats aid in circulation, combat systemic inflammation, support brain function, and even ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
They are found primarily in fish, algae, flax, and nuts, as well as in “grass fed” or “pastured” animal products.
Omega 3 fats can be found in 3 forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA.
ALA can be found in vegetarian sources like walnuts and flaxseeds, while EPA and DHA can only be found in animal foods like fish and “grass fed” beef or “pastured” dairy.
There’s a catch, however:
Most of the scientific literature suggests that the overwhelming benefits of omega 3 come from EPA and DHA.
Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is not very good – less than 5% for EPA and less than half of 1% for DHA.
A common misconception among vegans and vegetarians is that we can meet our need for EPA and DHA by consuming plant based ALA, but the conversion rates shown above indicate clearly that this isn’t the case.
The Ratio –
The ratio of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3 fats is extremely important to keep in mind.
The experts agree that humans evolved eating a 1:1 ratio, although up to a 4:1 ratio is probably good enough for general health.
Today the ratio in a typical western diet is somewhere between 10-30:1 in favor of Omega 6.
It’s no wonder our population is riddled with disease and obesity!
Saturated fats are found in animal products and some tropical oils such as coconut and red palm.
They have all available carbon bonds paired with hydrogen atoms, and therefore, are highly stable, even when heated.
They are ideal for cooking!
Saturated fats serve critical roles in the human body—they SHOULD BE consumed daily!
They make up 1/2 of our cell membranes’ structure, enhance calcium absorption and immune function, and they aid in the body’s synthesis of EFA’s, all while providing a dense source of fat soluble vitamins.
These fats also provide our bodies with a healthy dose of cholesterol.
These “man made” fats should be avoided at all costs.
The hydrogenation process, which changes the position of hydrogen atoms in the fatty acid chain, makes the fat more “shelf stable,” but also renders it unrecognizable to our bodies, and therefore impossible to eliminate.
Once ingested, trans fats are absorbed through our cell membranes.
They have been linked to inflammation, accelerated atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome .
The fats in processed snack foods and vegetable oils like canola, peanut, corn, and soybean should be eliminated from our diet.
The first hydrogenated shortening, Crisco, was created in 1911.
That means that out of 2 million years of human evolution, we have only been ingesting these fats for just over 100 years.
In this ephemeral amount of time, the effects on our population’s health has been devastating.
If your see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the label of a particular oil, run like hell in the opposite direction.
So you’ve read through the science.
Well, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when determining the amount of fat in one’s diet.
As stated earlier, fat is the most dense of the three main macro nutrients, containing 9 calories per gram.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, if your goal is to lose weight and you are very overweight and/or sedentary, calories from fat should make up the MAJORITY of your total calories consumed – anywhere from 40% to as much as 60%.
If you’re already lean and train regularly, you’ll want to get more calories in the form of carbohydrates (our next topic), but still keep at least 20-30% of overall calories coming from dietary fat.
Once you’ve determined your goals and the amounts you should be ingesting, you’ll want to maximize your Omega 6 – Omega 3 ratio.
Remember, the ideal ratio is 1:1, but as high as 4:1 will get the job done.
So how do you do this?
Make sure the MAJORITY of fats ingested are coming from animal foods like “pastured” eggs, “grass fed” beef, and “wild caught” fish.
Avoid all conventionally raised animal products that have been fed an unnatural diet of corn (this will negatively alter the animal’s fatty acid profile) and injected with growth hormones and antibiotics.
Make sure the only oils used for cooking are produced naturally and remain stable under high heat—Coconut, Red Palm , Avocado, and “Pastured” Butter are all great choices.
Avoid all hydrogenated vegetable oils at all costs.
Use nuts and nut butters sparingly, while they contain healthy monounsaturated fats, their Omega 6 content is quite high and could skew your ratio if over consumed.
Eating in this way will ensure you get a variety of “healthy” fats in your diet and maintain an ideal Omega 6 to 3 ratio.
For far too long, fat has been demonized by the media, doctors, and health and fitness professionals.
We have been told to fear and avoid it at all costs while replacing it with processed “low fat” foods high in sugar and carbohydrates.
The results of this mass experiment on our population have been horrendous, to say the least.
More than 1/3 (34.9%) of U.S. adults are obese.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is over 150 million dollars.
The results are in, and contrary to what we’ve been told, there is an INVERSE relationship between fat consumption and weight gain.
It’s time to stop fearing fat.
It should not only be a part of a healthy diet, but for at least 1/3 of our population, healthy natural fats should probably make up the majority of caloric intake.
Stay tuned for Part 2….