An introduction to Fat

Updated: Jun 4


An introduction to Fat

The word fat has been taboo for many people for decades. Many believe that consuming food with high-fat content will make them gain fat around the bellies and other unwanted areas. This belief is based on the notion that 1g of fat contains higher calories per gram (9 calories) compared to either carbohydrates or protein (4 calories). However, there is too much misleading information on fat. Not all fat is harmful, and some fat is essential to our body. Fat makes up part of the cell membrane structure, brain tissues, bone marrow, and nerve sheaths and it helps create a cushion around the organs. Fat should make up to 20-35% of all calorie intake for athletes and very active people. Consuming lower than 20% may affect performance capacity since fat is a valuable source of energy and is essential in producing essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K that have important functions in the body.


As we shall see in future blogs, not all fats are created equally. Fats can be classified either as saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The difference is the degree of saturation (process) between these groups. Fat is made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms bonded together with double bonds. Processing food can destroy the bonds between these groups. Fully saturated fats contain no double bonds between the hydrocarbon chain and are often linked with cholesterol and poor cardiovascular health. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond whilst polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond. Both are related to more health benefits. Omega-3s are a special type of polyunsaturated fats that can help improve performance, recovery, and reduce the risk of illnesses and diseases. Omega-3's increase oxygen uptake to contracting muscles and lower heart rates which may reduce inflammation and joint stiffness.


An introduction to Fat

When unsaturated fatty acids are processed, they become trans fats. Trans fats (containing at least one double bond, therefore still a form of unsaturated fats) are the unhealthiest fats and can lead to increases in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and a reduction high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. They are formed when hydrogen is added to the vegetable oil to produce solid fats. Processed food and oils make up 80% of all the trans fat, whilst the rest comes from animal sources. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that less than 10% of the total energy intake should be from saturated fats and less than 1% from trans fats.


Fat is stored all around the body as adipose tissue. The majority of fat is stored beneath the skin and around organs. It is also stored in small amounts in the muscles (intermuscular) and bone marrow. The amount of fat stored in different body parts depends mainly on genetics, age, and hormone balance. People who store fat around their abdomen are at a higher risk of heart disease than people who store fat around their hips. Females tend to have higher storage on the hips and thighs whilst males tend to store fat around the stomach area. Females also tend to have a higher fat percentage. Although you cannot control where fat is stored, through nutritional plans and exercise you can drastically change the amount of fat that is stored.


References


Dhaka, V., Gulia, N., Ahlawat, K. S., & Khatkar, B. S. (2011). Trans fats—sources, health risks and alternative approach-A review. Journal of food science and technology, 48(5), 534-541.


Frank, A. P., de Souza Santos, R., Palmer, B. F., & Clegg, D. J. (2019). Determinants of body fat distribution in humans may provide insight about obesity-related health risks. Journal of lipid research, 60(10), 1710-1719.


Kerksick, C. M. (2019). Requirements of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for athletes. In Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance (pp. 443-459). Academic Press.


Thielecke, F., & Blannin, A. (2020). Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Sport Performance—Are They Equally Beneficial for Athletes and Amateurs? A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 12(12), 3712.


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