CURRENT ARTICLE: Common Myths About Dietary Fat

Common Myths About Dietary Fat

cheese, as with any dairy produce, is high in saturated fat and low in mono and poly fats. it's a pretty poor source for monos and polys. nuts and seeds are far better.

i've never seen a study that states low staurated fat diets by themselves decrease testosterone levels, they've always had other variables such as calorie restriction or cholestrol. as far as i was aware, given todays poor diet, there is no need to add saturated fats to your diet, quite the opposite. about a third of your fat calories should be from saturated fat, which you will get naturally from a healthy diet. please do point me in the direction of any studies that show this to be wrong.

check out #8 - this is a good source for people who have questions about fat and thought i'd share it with everyone.

as a bodybuilder concerned with your appearance, you're conflicted when it comes to fat. the latest message is that the nutrient is actually good for you: after decades of fat being castigated as the nutritional nemesis, scientists now know that diets too low in healthy fats tend to be very high in carbohydrates, which can promote excess bodyfat and increase the risk of disease. but while fat may help keep you leaner and disease-resistant, you have trouble believing that it helps build rock-hard abs ... and so the love-hate relationship continues. here m & f strips away the truth from the most widespread assumptions about dietary fat.

1. lie: all fats are the same

truth: some fats are good and some are bad. mono- and polyunsaturated fats can help fend off diseases and promote athletic performance; saturated fats and trans fatty acids (aka trans fats) are akin to putting sludge in your arteries and flab on your abs. when substituted for saturated or trans fats in the diet, mono- and polyunsaturated fats lower total blood cholesterol and triglycerides and raise healthy, hdl-cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. they also improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, reducing the risk of diabetes and hypertension.

excess saturated and trans fats in the diet promote heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. they also raise unhealthy ldl-cholesterol levels, c-reactive protein (a measure for inflammation) and triglycerides. in addition, trans fats lower hdl-cholesterol levels, exacerbating the risk for heart disease, and can cause muscle breakdown. to determine how much of the different types of fat you should get in your diet, see "chew the fat" below. values are based on a 3,000-calories-a-day diet.

2. lie: fat is nothing more than calories

truth: just like carbohydrates and protein, fat is an essential macronutrient, which means you need it in larger quantities than micronutrients such as vitamins c and e or iron. dietary fat is the body's only means of getting two essential fatty acids--linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid--which together assist in immune system maintenance and hormone production. essential fats can also help you gain muscle and shed more bodyfat. in other words, eating the right kinds of fat will help you produce more of the muscle-building hormone testosterone. in addition, fat aids in digestion and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins a, d, e and k and hundreds of beneficial carotenoids, like lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin found in fruits and vegetables. in fact, recent studies show that eating salads with fat-free salad dressing may prevent your body from absorbing beneficial phytonutrients!

3. lie: fat makes you fat

truth: taking in too many calories, period, makes you fat. yet since fat contains twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbs, it's easier to consume more calories from fat than from either protein or carbohydrate. a report by the centers for disease control and prevention regarding dietary trends in the united states points out that while the calories americans ate from fat decreased from 37% in the 1960s to 33% in 1994, obesity skyrocketed from 14.5% to 31% of the population.

some studies show that by adding certain highly combustible mono- and polyunsaturated fats to the diet, weight loss is actually increased. according to susan kleiner, phd, rd, author of power food (rodale, 2004), "eating more protein and fat helps keep the metabolic rate high, and the omega-3 fatty acids can actually help the body burn visceral abdominal fat."

4. lie: public-health officials recommend a low-fat diet

truth: in the past, the usda, fda and other health organizations labeled fat public enemy no. 1, but the food police have called off the war. why? research suggests that higher-fat diets, similar to the traditional mediterranean diet, are healthier than low-fat diets. as a result, the 2005 dietary guidelines for americans recommend that between 20% and 35% of total daily calories come from fat. but that's no license to bring on the butter and bacon; the emphasis is on consuming the right fats, like mono- and polyunsaturated ones.

5. lie: fat isn't important for building muscles

truth: recent studies indicate that mono- and polyunsaturated fats are more readily burned for muscle fuel than trans and saturated fats. research suggests that diets containing the former types of fats can help spare muscle glycogen and potentially increase the time it takes to reach muscle exhaustion. mono- and polyunsaturated fats also help control muscle inflammation, which may aid in post-exercise muscle recovery, explains kleiner. "omega-3s, the primary fats that comprise your brain and nervous system, are responsible for the transmission of nerve signals and communication between brain cells. without them, you may not feel mentally sharp or focused or be in any mood to work out," she adds.

6. lie: i can't tell how much trans fat is in a food

truth: about 80% of trans fats in your diet come from processed foods, primarily snack foods and desserts. due to pressure from both consumer and health organizations, many food companies have reformulated their products to take out trans fats and many list the amount of trans fats on product labels. in january 2006, the fda will require food labels to include trans fat amounts. until then, to determine if a food contains trans fat, just do the math yourself: add up the grams of mono- and polyunsaturated and saturated fats listed on the label. if that number is less than the total fat grams listed, the remainder is from trans fat.

7. lie: fats and oils are the major sources of dietary fat

truth: fats like butter and margarine are not the major sources of fat in most people's diets. of the average 76 grams of fat americans eat daily, 30% comes from meat, fish and poultry; 28% from grains and grain-based foods; and 13% from dairy products. surprisingly, only 10% of the average american's total daily fat intake is from fats and oils.

8. lie: all saturated fats are bad

truth: we all need to get some saturated fats in our diets for hormone production, particularly testosterone. studies show that individuals who consume higher saturated fats (to some degree) tend to have higher testosterone levels. one type of saturated fat--medium-chain triglycerides (mcts)--is particularly good for you; it's found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and butter. some supplement manufacturers sell mct oil or add it to their protein powders.

mcts are saturated triglycerides that have shorter fatty acids than the long-chain triglycerides found in the typical diet, a novel property that can help you add muscle mass and get lean. for example, mcts contain only about 8 calories per gram, unlike most dietary fats that contain about 9 calories per gram. yet the major benefit of mcts is how they're metabolized. unlike typical fats that get stored in the body, mcts get preferentially used for fuel. when they're broken down for fuel, they form compounds called ketone bodies, which help prevent the breakdown of muscle and can actually lead to greater muscle growth.

mcts have also been found to boost metabolism and encourage the use of stored bodyfat for fuel. some studies even suggest that mct supplementation enhances protein utilization by the body, which can lead to greater muscle growth. and if that's not enough, newer research has discovered that mcts can benefit the immune system. try adding 1-2 tablespoons of mct oil to your meals 1-4 times per day, starting with a lower dose to avoid stomach discomfort. if you have diabetes or gastrointestinal issues, consult a qualified medical practitioner before supplementing with mcts.

julie upton, rd, is a writer and triathlete in new york city.

by julie upton, rd

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