Health/Fitness

A Primer on Fat

by John Maroussas
Sunday Aug 25, 2013
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We are all aware of the exhortations to eat healthy, or even for some athletes to "eat clean." For many of us, food is one of the most enjoyable things outside the bedroom, and the idea that we should give up all our favorite foods is just too depressing to contemplate. But eating well means focusing on the quality of the foods you eat and becoming aware that some good tasty foods are more beneficial to health than, say, the commonly available convenience foods.

Let’s not demonize whole categories of food, by saying for example that carbohydrates are bad. Carbs are essential to fuel our bodies, and in fact one of the main demands for carbs is to fuel our brains. If you want proof, try going a whole day on nothing but lean protein shakes, and see how difficult it is by the end of the day to make decisions and think logically. Soda is a carb, but so is broccoli or an apple. Some carbs are certainly healthier than others. The same applies to fats.

Fat is an important nutrient because it is a concentrated form of energy. While protein and mind 2carbohydrate both yield four calories per gram, fat contains a whopping nine calories. Our bodies crave fats because we are programmed for survival, and we gravitate to the most nourishing foods, since our bodies don’t know when the next meal might appear.

So the quality of the foods you eat is the most important piece of the nutrition puzzle. Some fats are healthy and beneficial, while others are a shortcut to the cardiac unit.

How much fat should we eat? Currently, the Institute of Medicine recommends eating 20-35% of total calories from fat. This amounts to 40 to 70 total grams for an average diet of 2000 calories a day. As an illustration, a stick of butter is about 115 grams.

What are the sources of fat? A tablespoon of peanut butter contains 8 grams; a typical slice of cheese 9 grams; a slice of cheese pizza 10 grams; a tablespoon of olive oil 14 grams; and a serving of salmon 14 grams. But the numbers are misleading because the fat in olive oil and salmon is in a form that is healthy, whereas the other fats are potentially harmful. So don’t be swayed by grams alone.

There are three main types of fats:

Saturated fat These are solid at room temperature, and any solid fat is not your friend. Butter, shortening, animal fats, including the fat in that delicious but heavily marbled steak, even coconut oil: if it is solid at room temperature, consume in moderation.

Monounsaturated fat This kind of fat is liquid at room temperature, and includes olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts especially almonds. Be careful with canola oil, as there is some evidence that it turns into the undesirable trans fat when heated. All these fats are closely tied to health, and are associated with the Mediterranean diet, which is believed to promote heart health.

Polyunsaturated fats These are also liquid at room temperature, and are the real good guys of the fat world. They are found in fish, especially oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and mahi mahi, fish oil, flax oil/seed, and nuts, especially almonds. These are "essential" fats, containing omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which our bodies need for optimal health.

Those omega 3 and 6 fats will make you feel and move better: They lubricate the joints, and minimize the stiffness that comes with aging.

All types of fat can be included in a healthy diet, but saturated fat should be kept at a low level. This is the stuff that boosts the undesirable LDL cholesterol, whereas unsaturated fats generally promote the better HDL cholesterol which is vital for a number of important body functions, including production of testosterone.

In the end, everything comes back to improving our sex lives!

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