How much fat can I eat and stay healthy?

How much fat can I eat and stay healthy?

I’ve often wondered whether eating too much fat increases my fat percentage.  The obvious answer is yes of course it does, but having researched the subject it seems that this is not necessarily the case. There are 2 considerations here:

  1. If you are trying to lose fat percentage - i.e you’re on a fat loss regime 
  2. Issues around fat when it comes to health.

Eating a diet high in fat doesn’t automatically increase our fat percentage.  This depends on our maintenance calories. But what are maintenance calories? Maintenance calories are precisely the number of calories your body needs to support the energy you use. If we have reached our maintenance calories for the day having eaten foods which contain a fair amount of fat, our fat percentage won’t increase, as the foods eaten won’t directly turn to fat.  It will only turn to fat when we eat excess calories for what our body needs.

In the past, people were crazy about cutting their calories and fat intake because per 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein there are 4 calories, with 1 gram of fat equating to 9 calories - that’s more than double the calories per gram. Reducing the fat in our diets does lead to us reducing our calorie intake which is great BUT fat is an essential part of our diet along with carbohydrate and protein making up a balanced diet which our bodies need to remain healthy.

So it seems that as far as fat loss and maintenance calories are concerned, eating more fat doesn’t make a difference as long as we are within our precise calorie level.  When it does matter though, is when it comes to health. We can be on a health journey and lose fat but can still be unhealthy.  For most of us, the best option here is the balance between eating healthily and eating snacks from time to time. This stops the binge eating or starving ourselves. 

So if fats are essential to us, what exactly are ‘fats’? Fats come in several forms and there are good and bad fats. The basics are:

Bad fats:

  1. Saturated fats - e.g cakes, biscuits, butter, cheese, ice cream, pastries, sausages, bacon and more - these should only be eaten in moderation because saturated fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  2. Trans fats - e.g French fries, donuts, fast foods and more - not good for us and can be linked to health issues as it raises your 'bad' cholesterol and also lowers your 'good' cholesterol. Eating too much trans fat can increase the risk for heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. 

Good fats:

  1. Polyunsaturated fats - e.g walnuts, sunflower seeds, fish such as salmon and mackerel - better for our bodies and studies have shown these can be linked to reducing cholesterol whereas the other 2 fats can increase cholesterol 
  2. Monounsaturated fats - e.g sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, almonds, hazelnuts - help protect the heart by reducing bad LDL cholesterol and maintaining good HDL cholesterol.

It’s important to check the labels on our foods so that we can see exactly what we are putting into our bodies. I’ve discovered various apps which can help to track calories and break down ingredients, such as ‘My Fitness Pal’.

So what have I learned from all of this? Firstly, fat is an essential part of a healthy balanced diet and as long as I stay within my maintenance calories, I won’t increase my fat percentage. Next, cut back on the ’bad fats’ and eat more of the ‘good fats’. Losing fat doesn’t necessarily equate to being healthy as for example, cholesterol could still be high.  

That’s food for thought!

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