Keto ( a high-fat diet of up to 75% of the calories coming from fat) Is all the craze right now. But is this necessary? The question I want to address in this article is how much fat do you need to eat every day?
The answer might surprise you.
Because you don’t actually need to eat that much fat to be healthy.
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The 4 Primary Types Of Fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fats ( Avoid these fats at all costs)
Polyunsaturated fats come from:
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower, corn, soybean and flaxseed oils
- Canola oil
The most important type of polyunsaturated fats that most people neglect are omega 3’s (which include essential fatty acids).
If You consume enough essential fatty acids (EFA’s) you can get away with consuming zero to very little extra dietary fat.
Essential fatty acids are fats that you must get from food or supplementation.
They’re the fats that your body can’t make by itself.
And if you fail to consume enough of them you die.
The 3 fatty acids in omega 3’s are:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
The 4 fatty acids found in omega 6’s are:
Linoleic acid (LA)
Arachidonic acid (ARA)
Gamma linoleic (GLA)
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
What Are The Essential Fatty Acids ? (EFA’s)
From the omega 3’s the alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and omega 6’s linoleic acid (LA) are what are known as the essential fatty acids.
Your body can’t make these essential fatty acids. So you must get them from your diet.
Because if you do get enough of these you can basically remove any other polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat or saturated fat from your diet and still be healthy.
But if you didn’t get enough ALA & LA you would ultimately die. (but this is very hard to be truly deficient in because even terrible diets provide enough ALA and LA to prevent you from being truly deficient).
Generally Speaking, Most People Struggle To Eat Enough Omega 3’s
Its not uncommon for people to eat omega 6’s and omega 3’s in a ration of 15:1. Or even ratios of up to 20:1 or higher.
In contrast to our evolutionary diet that had us eating omega 6’s and omega 3’s in a ratio of 1-1 and 1:4.
Because omega 6’s are abundant in cooking oils and a lot of processed foods (because these are the oils used in many processed foods).
Its omega 3’s that people mostly struggle to eat enough of. And these are best obtained through fatty fish or a fish oil supplement.
The omega 3 fatty acids provide a whole host of benefits when consumed in effective amounts.
If you just want to tick the box for a base-level amount of omega 3’s then studies show you should strive for a total intake of 0.5 grams of EPA and DHA combined.
But they can be even more beneficial if you consume 1.5-3 grams of fish oils per day.
The benefits of fish oils are so good that they almost sound to good to be true.
They have been proven to:
Improve insulin sensitivity and fat loss.
Boost immune system function.
Decrease the risk of all manners of disease.
Have even been implicated in the prevention of diet-induced depression.
Monounsaturated fat is the other form of unsaturated fat.
And can be found in:
Nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts.
Olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame and safflower oils.
Unsaturated fats aren’t bad for your health and you can consume a lot of these fats and still be healthy.
In fact, the Mediterranean diet is made up of a lot of monounsaturated fat ( because it includes high amounts of olive oil).
And the Mediterranean diet has actually resulted in better health in those who follow it. This could also be down to the fact that the Mediterranean diet also includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
So Unsaturated Fat Sounds Good What About Saturated Fats?
Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature.
Saturated fats are in foods such as:
Coconut & palm oil.
Butter & lard.
The research is mixed on saturated fat.
There is clear evidence that shows eating too much-saturated fat can increase your LDL (bad cholesterol).
So I think it’s fair to say we should follow the advice of the heart foundation and limit our saturated fat intake to less than 10% of our diets.
Because I think it makes sense to err on the side of caution. Especially where health is concerned.
Trans Fats ( Avoid These At All Costs)
Trans fats are man-made fats that are used to increase the shelf life of highly processed foods. Although they are also found naturally in very small amounts in some foods.
They really have no place in a healthy diet.
They have been linked to many negative health outcomes.
And are found in:
Other highly proccesed commercially fried or baked goods.
Fortunately, trans fats are being used less and less in highly processed foods. Because of the clear evidence that they are detrimental to your health.
Dietary Fat A Double Edged Sword
The Pros Of Dietary Fat
On the one hand, dietary fat is an essential macronutrient and you need to eat it to survive (alongside protein).
It also sits in your stomach for longer and “sticks to your ribs”( An old saying on how fat tends to sit in your stomach for longer).
This increases feelings of fullness and slows down the digestion of higher glycemic carbs and other foods.
For example, if you eat a slice of toast by itself it will digest pretty rapidly and not really fill you up at all.
On the other hand, if you add a tablespoon of peanut butter to that slice of toast you’ll slow down the digestion of the slice of toast (because the fat and protein from the peanut butter take longer to digest).
So this meal will now sit in your stomach for longer and tie you over to your next meal.
Fat is also the tastiest and richest macronutrient you can eat providing flavour to meals and snacks.
Hence why most restaurants smother your food in butter, cheese and oils to increase the taste.
The Cons Of Dietary Fat
Fat is the densest macronutrient at 9 calories per gram whereas protein and carbs are both 4 calories per gram.
And because of this, fat can be very easy to overeat (eat more calories than you burn) on and can result in you gaining fat if you eat too much of it.
Fat also isn’t the preferred energy source for fueling your workouts. Carbs are better for increasing your performance in your workouts. Because glucose is your main source of energy.
This is because when you eat enough carbs your body stores them in your muscles (and liver) as glycogen to fuel your workouts.
And if you eat too much dietary fat and not enough carbs this will hamper your performance in the gym.
This is why when most people try the keto diet their performance decreases in the gym.
Fat is also easily stored as fat if you eat too much of it. Whereas carbs and protein are much more infrequently stored as fat.
My Recommendation For Dietary Fat
Personally, I eat roughly 25% of my calories from fat. And I find that if I eat less dietary fat than this my diet tends to taste like cardboard.
So essentially what I’m recommending is to eat a moderate amount of fat in your diet. This will help you stay full, make your diet taste good and provide more than enough fat to stay healthy and enjoy your workouts.
I’d also recommend that you keep your protein and carbs high. A good macronutrient composition that I’ve found works well is to eat 25% of my calories from fat, 30% of my calories from protein and 45% of my calories from carbs.
Although a dietary fat range +- 5% of this target (from 20-30% of your diet) can provide enough fat to stay healthy and still make your diet taste good.
As long as you keep your protein intake high somewhere between 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of your body weight (and consistently hit your calories for your goal) then you can hit your carbs and fats however you like. Although I wouldn’t go over the 10% of your diet from saturated fat limit.
The Minimum Amounts Of Carbs And Fats On A Diet
But if you eat a very high-fat diet (think keto) this will just result in you having bad workouts because of the limited amount of glycogen in your muscles. And that’s why I wouldn’t limit your dietary carbohydrate intake to less than 0.5g per pound of your body weight. And I wouldn’t go lower in your dietary fat intake than 0.25g per pound of your bodyweight.
So for me, I’m 170 pounds so the least amount of carbohydrate I’d allow myself to have would be 85 grams per day (this would be if I was doing a low carb, higher fat and protein diet).
But if I was doing a higher carb, higher protein and lower to moderate amount of fat diet (which is what I recommend). The lowest I’d set my fat intake would be 42 grams per day.
The Bottom Line On How Much Fat Should You Eat Per Day
- Omega 3’s are the most difficult type of fat to consume in your diet. And provide amazing health benefits. So try to consume more of these by eating more oily fish or through supplementation.
- In general unsaturated fats aren’t bad for you. And have been found to increase your heart health.
- Saturated fats clearly raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and the research is mixed on saturated fats so limit them to 10% of your diet.
- Avoid trans fats at all costs they have no place in your diet.
- Eat a range from 20-30% of your diet from fats. This will enable you to eat enough protein (to help you build and retain muscle) and enough carbs to make sure your performance in the gym isn’t slacking.
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