Dietary Fats: Not all dietary fats are the same
Neron C. Francis MS, RDN, CDN
Are there really good fats?
Fat has a bad reputation. Many people don’t think of fat with the same regard as other macronutrients (although carbs are starting to be vilified in some circles — more on this in a future post). Fats have long been associated with cardiovascular diseases and obesity, but dietary fats are just as important as complex carbohydrates and proteins in a balanced diet and overall health.
The American Heart Association and American Dietetic Association recommend between 20-35% of daily calorie intake to come from fats. Why? Well, dietary fats are essential for cellular health and energy. The basic building blocks of our existence depends on fats.
Does that mean you can eat any type of dietary fat in order to meet your energy needs? No! Not all dietary fats are the same. Most people are familiar with saturated and unsaturated fats. But there are more nuanced differences. And knowing these differences can help you fuel your body to achieve an optimum workout. There are two types of polyunsaturated PUFA (n-6) and PUFA(n-3). Other dietary fats are monounsaturated fats, saturated fats and lastly trans-unsaturated fats. Of these, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are the ones we should be focusing on as part of a balanced diet because of their heart-health benefits.
Saturated fats should be consumed in moderation, comprising approximately less than 10% of your caloric needs. Trans-unsaturated fats should be less than 1% of your total calorie needs. So how can polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats help you maximize your workouts? Whether it’s rowing, jogging, cycling or swimming, our muscles get sore from an extended workout. This causes a buildup of lactic acid, and muscle tissues tend to become inflamed. Studies have suggested dietary fats such as PUFA and MUFA may reduce the level of inflammation and promote a healthy cardiovascular system, which helps support your exercise performance.
The question that remains now is can you use dietary fats to help fuel your workouts? The answer is yes, but it should be used in moderation. Too much dietary fat before a workout may cause your stomach to feel distress. A good idea is to enjoy a handful of almonds (23) or a serving of peanut butter with a piece of fruit an hour before a short workout. These can be effective snacks for energy and stomach distress should not be an issue. Nevertheless, carbohydrates should still be the main energy source to support a high intensity training regimen.
The key takeaway is to consume a diet rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated dietary fats because it’s heart healthy and it may help you maximize your workouts. Minimize your intake of dietary trans-fats because of their contribution to poor cardiovascular health and consume a moderate amount of saturated fats.
Here are some examples of the different types of fats:
Types of Fat
Polyunsaturated Fat (n-3)
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseed
Polyunsaturated Fat (n-6)
Safflower oil, pumpkin seeds, corn oil, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil
Almonds, avocados, canola oil, cashews, peanut butter, peanut oil, peanuts, olive oil, olives
Bacon, butter, cheese, cheesecake, cream, coconut, half & half, ice cream, poultry, ribs, sausage, steak
Cookies, cakes, pies, frozen breaded foods, frozen French fries, shortening, crackers, chips, any food items that contain partially hydrogenated fats