Fat is always a fun topic, especially when there is so much controversy about it related to health and performance.
My intent of this article is not to provide basic information about fat, as you can find that elsewhere. Nor is it to pick a side on the fat debate. Rather, I would like to provide up to date information regarding some of the more relevant myths regarding this wonderful macronutrient.
Myth #1: Saturated fat is bad for us
Even though past generations were raised on the high carbohydrate, low-fat diet mentality, research has now shown that saturated fat is not really the “bad guy” once thought nor a direct cause of coronary heart disease. That doesn’t mean you should open the flood gates and start eating all of the saturated fat you can. Our cells need saturated fat so yes, it is important to consume this specific type of fat in your daily nutrition plan but keep it under control. Most guidelines recommend about 10% or less of your total fat calories so don’t go too crazy. If you are experimenting with a higher fat daily nutrition plan, sneak a bit more mono- and polyunsaturated fats into the mix.
Myth #2: All polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) are great
Let’s talk about PUFA’s, more specifically, omega-6 and omega-3. These two gems are the talk of the town when it comes to PUFA’s. Health and nutrition professionals like to look at the association between these two PUFA’s, specifically the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Most Americans have a ratio of around 15:1 while the idea ratio is more around a 4:1 or less.
When you consume too much omega-6 in your diet, it competes with the absorption of omega-3 because they both share the same enzyme in the metabolic pathway. As you can imagine, too much of one will monopolize that enzyme and thus, favor one or the other. Why this becomes important is because omega-3 fats have a robust anti-inflammatory response in the body and while omega-6 fats are important, in excess, they become a bit more detrimental. This is the main issue with consuming too much of this PUFA.
One of the biggest sources of omega-6 in your diet is through processed seed and vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn and cottonseed oils. Try to minimize the use of these types of oils and reach for an oil with less omega-6 and more omega-3, like flaxseed oil, or foods rich in omega-3 such as sardines, salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Myth #3: All medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are created equal
Let’s set the record straight. The answer is no, all MCTs are not created equal. Even though they carry benefits such as increasing energy, and improving satiety, cognitive functioning, and gut health, not all MCTs function the same.
You have likely heard of the coconut oil craze, right? Coconut oil, also called lauric acid, is an MCT. It has a 12-carbon atom chain (we call it C12 in science speak) but only about one-quarter of it is absorbed through the portal vein. The rest of it goes through the same process as long chain triglycerides (like olive oil). Because of this, it doesn’t quite act like the other MCTs.
The other three MCTs, caproic (C6), caprylic (C8), and capric (C10) acid, are absorbed through the portal vein and are stored close to the mitochondria so they can be used quickly as energy, similar to carbohydrates. They also have robust effects on raising ketone levels and thus helping with improving the body’s ability to use fat as energy.
MCT’s are starting to gain much more attention these days, and when used appropriately, you can certainly benefit from their antimicrobial, anti-fungal, energy producing, fat burning, and gut and brain health improving benefits. My recommendation is to emphasize two specific MCTs: C8 and C10 and while you can still use C12 (coconut oil), do so sparingly.
There is a certainly a place for almost all types of fat in your daily nutrition plan (trans fat being the exception) and the important thing to remember is to know why you are eating a certain type of fat and what purpose it serves in the body. It’s definitely not an “all or none” phenomenon when it comes to consuming fat.
Bob Seebohar, MS, RDN, CSSD, CSCS, METS II is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a USAT Level III Certified Coach, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, and the creator of the Nutrition Periodization and Metabolic Efficiency Training concepts. He owns eNRG Performance and is the co-founder of Birota Foods in Colorado. Contact him at email@example.com or www.enrgperformance.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.