Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good fat, bad fat

In keeping with the nutritional facts theme, my goal is to review the entire nutritional facts label so that each of you are able to look at foods and determine if it's a healthy food or not. Last week I reviewed the carbohydrate to sugar ratio, this week I will review fats.

Despite what you might think there are types of fat that are good for you and happen to be necessary for healthy nutrition. They key is finding the good fat in the right proportion and staying away from the bad fat - for the most part.

Here's the label again. Last week I said that as far as carbohydrates and sugars are concerned mac n cheese is a good food. Sugars should be less than 50% of total carbohydrates -16% in this case. Now let's see if mac n cheese lives up to the bill as a good food as far as fat is concerned.

There are many types of fats but the FDA only requires the manufacturer to list total fat, saturated fats, and trans fat. Recent tables indicate that if you consume a 2500 calorie diet/day then about 20% of the calories should come from all fat, which turns out to be 55 grams (500 calories) of total fat. Of that 55 grams, saturated fat should make up no more than 20%/day - around 11 grams. So as it turns out mac n cheese fits the bill as a good food for fat as well - 2 for 2. But there's a catch that I'll discuss in subsequent posts.

Total fat includes: saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, trans, polyunsaturated, omega 3, 6, 9, and hydrogenated fats. Without going into the chemistry, all you need to know is that it's harder for our bodies to break down saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fat - i.e. it takes more energy to break them down and are more easily stored in the adipose tissue for easy weight gain. Make sense?

For this one food item of mac n cheese the total fat is 12 grams with 3 grams (~20%) coming from saturated fat - pretty good ratio. Try to keep each and every food item to less than 20% saturated fat and the whole day should workout to less than 20%. The trick is to keep the total fat around 55 grams/day.

I often look at fat content because as an endurance athlete a high fat diet may be deleterious to performance, fat may replace carbohydrate for the fuel source, and fat has caused me gastrointestinal distress before. Not only that but high fat diets can cause heart disease and high cholesterol. As an athlete your body needs quick energy and the best source for that is carbohydrates. Even though fat contains more energy, it takes longer for the body to breakdown fat and that doesn't work when your in the middle of a workout or race. The longer the event, the more likely you should include a fat source.
  • Sources of food with a little bit of good fat include: veggies, fruits, beans, natural whole grain products
  • Sources of food with high good fat include: nuts, seeds, and avocados
  • Sources of food with high BAD fat include: whole milk, cheese, candy, desserts, crackers, and potato chips.
So in summary, keep your fat intake around 20%/day with less than 20% of that coming from saturated fat. Good fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega 3, 6, 9. Bad fats: saturated, trans, and hydrogenated. Hydrogenated is usually lumped in with saturated but look for both terms. And last, don't eliminate fats altogether because most of our major organs need them as an energy source.

This kid knows good nutrition!
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