It always amazes me how many people think they’ll get fat if they eat fat. After all, doesn’t it make sense? If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat fat, right? Wrong, and here’s why: You see, it’s the terminology that confuses people. The fat you eat is not necessarily the fat that ends up around your waist or hips, but people throw these different “fats” into the same catchall “fat” category—hence, the misunderstanding.
What is dietary fat?
Fat molecules are constructed of a carboxylic acid with one to three glyceride “tails.” The most common fats are triglycerides with, you’ve guessed it, three tails. These tails have varying numbers of hydrogen atoms attached to them: They can either be totally packed with hydrogen atoms (i.e., saturated fat) or only partially full of hydrogen atoms (i.e., polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats).
Fats, as opposed to oils, are solid at room temperature and usually contain a high proportion of saturated tails; oils are liquid at room temperature and typically (there are notable exceptions) contain a high proportion of unsaturated tails.
What are fats used for in the body?
Now, a little biology. As discussed in previous articles, fats are one of the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet (the other necessary nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water).
Fat is a source of energy, and, at nine calories per gram, provides more than twice the energy of a comparable amount of carbohydrate or protein. This can be good if you’re starving, but if you’re not, it means it doesn’t take a lot of fat to tip you over your daily caloric requirement. Fat also carries essential nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) into and around the body; gives food flavor; and, because it takes longer to digest, stays in the stomach longer than other energy-providing nutrients, making us feel fuller for longer. Fat in and on your body also provides insulation from extreme temperatures, and cushions against concussive forces such as a fall.
Polyunsaturated fats have a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, and monounsaturated fats, in addition to also having a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, maintain high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol. So try and get your dietary fat from these healthier monounsaturated sources.
Saturated fats are, supposedly, the “bad” fats that tend to increase serum cholesterol; I write “supposedly” because new research is casting doubt on that claim. For the time being, though, until a strong scientific consensus has been reached, try to not overdo your consumption of saturated fats.
What foods should I eat that contain “healthy” fat?
The healthiest sources of fat include nuts, avocado, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil. Other healthy sources include fatty fish such as salmon. Meat and dairy products (unless reduced in fat) tend to contain a higher percentage of saturated fats and should therefore be eaten in moderation.
How much fat should I eat?
Fats should provide between 20 percent and 35 percent of your total daily caloric intake. Having said that, however, it doesn’t take a lot to consume more fat than you need. For example, an ounce of almonds (a small handful, or around 24 nuts) packs a punch of 164 calories; a mere 12 nuts more (or a slightly larger handful, around 1.5 ounces) will add another 82 calories. That could equate to as much as 4-5 percent of your daily caloric requirement for most women (less for most men). So be warned: go easy on the peanut butter and salad dressing.
So if eating fat is so good for me, what’s all this excess baggage hanging around my stomach/hips?
Put simply, when you consume more calories than you burn, the body has to do something with that extra energy, and so it converts it to an easily stored form of power—fat. Think of the excess fat around your body as a battery, there to be used in the future should you ever run out of food. The problem, of course, is that in our affluent society, running out of food is seldom a problem, and so the fat doesn’t go anywhere.
How do I get rid of this excess fat?
If you’re hoping I can tell you the secrets of fat loss in a sentence or two, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Using more energy than you consume sounds easy enough… so why is it so difficult to shed the pounds? That…will have to wait for a future article.
Is it all bad?
Before you panic that you’re slowly turning into a giant Duracell battery, please know that having some fat on your body is a good thing; it’s how Hashem created you, and it needs to be there for you to be healthy. The problems arise when having too much fat becomes detrimental to your health; when your quality of life deteriorates. At that point, it’s time to take charge and make some healthier decisions.
To sum this all up, if you eat a balanced diet, perform regular exercise, and don’t eat more than your body needs, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about putting on excessive weight. While it’s true that I’ve simplified a lot of very complicated processes in this article, and that sometimes it’s not always that straightforward—as is true for most things in life—it all comes down to control and discipline; being able to say “no” to that extra portion of dessert, and making wise choices that care for your body. If you respect your body, your body will respect you, allowing you to serve Hashem with all the potential with which you’ve been blessed.
Chemmie Sokolic is an ACSM-certified Personal Trainer, and owner of Frum & Fit LLC. Chemmie can be reached at [email protected]. Visit www.FrumandFit.com or www.Facebook.com/FrumandFit for more information.
By Chemmie Sokolic