The very word can make you shudder!
You’ve probably done like many people and gone through a phase of thinking even looking at fat makes you fat. It seems logical that eating fat results in putting on fat.
Unfortunately this is a myth which has grown and grown over the last 30 years or so.
Even worse, it turned people to inhaling carbohydrates instead.
(By the way it is excess carb intake which causes high cholesterol NOT dietary cholesterol. Another myth which has been debunked a while ago but continues to remain a strong influence!)
Now we know too many carbs at the wrong times leads to fat gain so the world has moved into a high protein phase.
The truth is we need protein, carbs and fat in varying degrees depending on each individual and their fitness goals, exercise load, stress levels, body fat etc. Timing is also important for the best results.
But what of fats in particular?
Why do we need them, how much do we need and what are the good sources?
What are these Essential Fatty Acids you hear about?
Why do some people swear by fish oil?
Let’s start from the beginning.
What are fats and what do they do?
First of all, you will have heard of good fats and bad fats.
This is a good start as fat consumption is not so much one of ‘how much’ but of ‘what quality’.
Not all fats are made equal.
At a very basic level it should be obvious that eating battered fish which leaves a fat stain on the chippie newspaper is not the same as eating a salmon and avocado salad. Both contain fats but the salmon and avocado provide sources of ‘good’ fats rather than the trans-fatty, heart stopping battered fish.
Fat is the body’s most concentrated fuel source. To reduce your body fat, it must be broken down into fatty acids, transported via the blood to the working muscles and into the cells where the fatty acids are utilised to create energy for burning.
A pretty lengthy process which doesn’t happen very quickly!
Because of this, fats are only available for fuel during low to moderate intensity exercise.
That is not to say that slow cardio is necessarily the best way to lose body fat because intense weight training and intervals increase your metabolic rate BETWEEN sessions when fat can be burnt up to help your body recover, resulting in much greater and faster fat loss without simultaneous muscle loss.
The discussion of slow cardio v intervals is best left there for now as there are many factors to consider before programming either into an exercise plan.
Fat has many more uses beyond being a fuel and a source of annoyance if you carry too much!
It also plays a huge part in cell structure (your cells run EVERYTHING from metabolism to your immune system), your nervous system (aids transmission of signals), transports certain critical vitamins (A,D,E and K) and also slows down food digestion thus preventing the hunger pangs often associated with the aftermath of rapid digestion of carbohydrate based meals.
With regard to vitamin transportation, if you are lacking sufficient fats in your diet you may suffer the symptoms of a lack of these vitamins even though your intake is technically sufficient.
Poor transportation and uptake of Vitamin D for example, can lead to many problems from depression to bone loss and energy production.
Some Boring Science Stuff
Fats are made up from carbon and hydrogen atoms but the hydrogen atoms are destroyed by high heat (most cooking methods) turning even the good fats into trans fats which the body is unable to recognise or use.
This is why trans fats often found in processed foods are so good at increasing your body fat stores – your body doesn’t know how to use them!
But what you might not have realised is that excessive frying of food can create the same problem even when you think you’re having a healthy stir-fry!
Bonus tip: Coconut oil has a much higher heat point than olive oil so should be preferred in cooking.
What About The Effect On My Cholesterol?
The argument that high dietary cholesterol causes high blood cholesterol came about after one particular study which was disproven soon after, but the incorrect link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol remained.
Lower blood cholesterol levels are linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer and other Western diseases but eating more good fats and dietary cholesterol has much less effect on blood cholesterol than excessive carbohydrate intake and saturated fat.
Types Of Fat
There are three types of natural fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Saturated fat: Found in certain meats and dairy produce.
Saturated fat is required like all fats but should be limited as excess increases levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood which can in turn lead to hypertension, stroke and heart attack.
A couple of portions of red meat per week is generally enough.
Saturated fat should account for no more than 10% of daily calorie intake.
What of unsaturated fats?
Because they are unsaturated (less chemical bonds) they are much more biologically active in the body so much better for consumption.
Monounsaturated: Found in meats as well as most fish, avocado, olives, olive oil, vegetable oils and nuts (and nut butters)
Monounsaturated fats are very heart healthy and should be consumed daily (without going overboard!)
Polyunsaturated: Found in fatty fish, seeds, whole grains.
You have probably heard of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, but what is it all about?
They may sound very similar, but in fact have different properties and effects on the body.
When we ate a diet with lots of fish and natural food before the dawn of processed foods, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was about 1:1 – 2:1 .
Now with the rapid increase in the use of processed vegetable oils in almost all prepared foods, that ratio is now more like 20:1 or 30:1 causing significant nutritional imbalance.
Derived from linoleic acid found in high concentrations in corn oil, safflower oil and other salad/processed foods made with vegetable oils.
The body needs Omega 6’s to create hormones which aid nerve impulse transmission and has anti-inflammatory properties.
However, too much can actually be highly-inflammatory causing swelling, pain sensitivity, increased blood thickening.
As animal products are often high in arichadonic acid from which the inflammatory conditions arise, a high meat diet can exacerbate inflammatory conditions in the body particularly if Omega 3 consumption is too low.
Alpha-linoelic acid (ALA) is the simplest Omega-3 fatty acid and found in high concentrations in flaxseed and canola oil.
The Essential Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA are potent anti-inflammatory agents and counteract any excess Omega 6 activity so you can see how they work in balance.
They are found in the highest amounts in salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and blue fin.
Omega 3’s are also highly effective in reducing exercise-induced constriction of the airways leading to the lungs so if you suffer from poor breathing during exercise, increasing your Omega 3 consumption could make a big difference.
Adequate intake of Omega 3’s is also needed to reduce the inevitable post-workout inflammation and accelerate repair thus reducing soreness after training and helping you recover and progress much more quickly.
How Do I Know If I’m Lacking Essential Fatty Acids?
Here are some potential signs of fatty acid imbalance. One of these does not necessarily indicate an imbalance but if three or more are familiar, you may well be lacking EFA’s.
– Poor exercise recovery / muscle aches
– Dry skin
– Frequent urination
– Dry, unmanageable hair
– Excessive thirst
– Brittle nails
– Attention deficit
– Soft nails
– Lowered immunity
– Dry eyes
– Learning problems
– Poor wound healing
– Frequent infections
– Patches of pale skin
– Cracked skin on finger tips
What Else Do Essential Fatty Acids Affect?
EFA’s play a huge part in most activities within the body.
Most people get little or no DHA in their diets and this has been linked to increases in MS, depression, PMS, ADHD, hyperactivity and shizophrenia.
On a less serious level (at first), the absence of sufficient EFA’s means the brain is unable to make necessary brain cells thus affecting your senses, intelligence, concentration and anything requiring brain power including muscular contraction.
If you suffer from degenerative hearing or vision this is a good place to start for non-invasive solutions.
Mood, memory and behaviour
Cultures consuming large amounts of fish traditionally have much lower incidence of depression and in tests in the prison system, very low DHA levels were found in violent, anti-social men.
This is likely to translate to behavioural problems in everyday life in those who don’t consume enough Omega 3’s.
Women cannot conceive or bear children if they have inadequate fats and because DHA levels decline during pregnancy and are lower with each successive child, things can get progressively worse in terms of nutritional imbalance within your child and the child’s brain function.
Interestingly, women who develop post-partum depression had significantly lower blood levels of Omega 3 and had higher omega 6:3 ratios, so the aftermath of child-birth could be made much easier to deal with simply by supplementing with EFA’s AS SOON AS YOU GET PREGNANT.
Do not wait until after the birth.
Sufficient intake of Essential Fatty Acids over a period of weeks has been shown to reduce body fat. This is likely to be a result of improved blood flow and cell function, increasing metabolic rate.
Also deficiency of alpha-linolenic acid may increase the amount of sugar needed to satisfy a sweet tooth making sticking to healthy eating much harder than it needs to be.
In fatigued patients, Omega 3 and Omega 6 levels were well below normal.
Supplementation with EPA and DHA caused significant improvements in exhaustion, weakness and poor concentration.
Stress has been found to damage fatty acids of the brain therefore those under a lot of stress are particularly at risk of EFA deficiency.
When individuals were supplemented with GLA and DHA, it reversed the rise in blood pressure often associated with psychological stress.
Phosphotidylserine supplementation has also been found to significantly reduce the stress hormone response to physical stress.
This is found in the Heart and Brain Oil available at Storm Force Fitness.
Suggested Optimal Nutrient Levels For Brain-Fat Formation
Note how much higher these figures are than typical RDA’s!
Don’t assume multi-vitamins that scratch the RDA will be enough especially if your nutrition is sub-standard, you exercise a lot and your stress levels are quite high.
Brain performance and cautions
Anyone with existing conditions of the brain should consult a health professional knowledgeable in this area.
If you experience problems when taking a fatty acid supplement, discontinue and consult a professional.
Certain trace minerals are required to enable the fatty acids to work so pay attention to good wholesome nutrition.
Nutrition is only one part of the equation. We must also consider mental stress from numerous angles.
Fatty acid intake can affect dosages of other drugs so proceed with caution ESPECIALLY THOSE ON BLOOD THINNING DRUGS SUCH AS WARFARIN.
Part Of a Complex System
You should pay attention to your whole nutrition approach, as simply increasing Essential Fatty Acid intake may not have much effect if you lack certain other nutrients.
The following vitamins and minerals are also important in fatty acid conversion.
- Vitamin B3 and B6
- Magnesium (aids reactions involving fatty acids)
- Zinc (antioxidant within the brain)
- Vitamin C, E and A
Brain Fat Blockers
The following ‘conditions’ also prevent fats within the brain from functioning properly so you should look to avoid these where possible or at least place more emphasis on fatty acid supplementation.
– High total blood cholesterol
– High dietary saturated fat
– High trans fatty acid intake (most processed and takeaway food)
– Alcohol consumption
– Sugar (depletes glutathione, an antioxidant in the brain exposing the brain to more free radical stress0.
– Genetic errors
– Elevated blood glucose
– Fasting or starvation
Fish oils are widely accepted as an essential part of any good diet and are a great source of the Essential Fatty Acids detailed above.
They can obviously be gotten from high-fat cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout.
However, what many people don’t realise is that now that many fish are farmed and fed certain food rather than being free to swim and eat natural marine plants/algae, they are often devoid of these fatty acids because the original source is actually the plant life – and you are what you eat!
It is the marine algae that provide the EPA and DHA (Essential Fatty Acids).
Therefore it has become more and more important to supplement with either good quality, non-polluted fish oils or with supplements derived from marine algae sources.
In particular there is an age related decline in the conversion enzymes which enable the body to make EPA and DHA so supplementation is essential for athletes or those engaged in heavy exercise over 30.
Realistically, everybody exercising hard and wanting to ensure they get all the nutrients they need, should be supplementing with Essential Fatty Acids.
As always opinions vary, but a good daily target is 2-3g of EPA and 1-2 of DHA, so around 3-6g per day.
Inflammation and Fish Oils
You will have heard of inflammation in various situations and discussions but what exactly is it?
It is the exact opposite of being healthy and well when chronic (persistent) but it is a critical action in the body in the right amounts as it fends off bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbial invaders. It also helps damaged tissue repair itself following injury, cuts etc.
It should be characterised by two distinct phases – attack and rejuvenation.
Pro-inflammatory substances are released to increase blood flow and generate pain so you know something is wrong after an ‘attack’ – it’s all part of a defence mechanism.
This is useful in short bursts but damaging when it happens all the time – as is the case in people with inflammatory conditions such as IBS. However, it also occurs in people who may not realise at first but are damaging their bodies through consistently poor nutrition
If the pro-inflammatory substances are allowed to run wild due to too much inflammation in your system, your cells become subjected to what can best be described as friendly fire. You’re attacking yourself!
This is what eventually leads to a whole host of autoimmune diseases.
This is key in any argument from people who believe they can ‘get away’ with bad food just because they aren’t noticeably fat – it WILL catch up with you!
Three hormones lead to increased inflammatory conditions:
– Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids (as mentioned above)
Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are also derived from arachidonic acid , which is an Omega 6 fatty acid so a diet high in vegetable oils, processed food and meat increases your risk of inflammatory conditions.
In order to preserve energy for your immune system, the hormones also increase your need for sleep so if you can’t explain your need for sleep, check out your nutrition first!
Anti-inflammatory eicosanoids come from eating a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
What Does Inflammation Actually Do To Your Body?
– Damaged arteries leading to heart complications. Can destabilize cholesterol deposits on coronary arteries leading to heart attacks.
– Lack of Omega 3’s can lead to chaotic electrical rhythms in the heart.
– Spasm in blood vessels restricting blood flow to the heart.
– Damaged nerve cells in the brain leading to reduced mental function (concentration, memory, IQ) at best and diseases such as Alzheimer’s at worst.
– Depressed immune system and formation of cancerous tumours starting by encouraging rapid cell division turning healthy cells into mutated cancerous ones.
– Increased risk of pain such as migraines, fibromyalgia, arthritis and chronic pain.
– Increased risk of autoimmune diseases.
– Cells become more resistant to insulin thus increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Also, excess insulin produces excess arichadonic acid thus increasing silent inflammation. High fasting insulin levels is a key indicator of high levels of silent inflammation.
One study showed that taking 1.8g of DHA per day for 12 weeks decreased insulin resistance in overweight people by 70%.
– Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are not only highly associated with tumour formation but also encourage the spread of cancer cells.
If your immune system is having to battle silent inflammation it is not going to do it’s job with regard to destroying stray cancer cells allowing them to divide and grow into tumours.
– Women who eat the highest amounts of fish are the least likely to develop breast cancer. This would suggest that cancer prevention lies in controlling silent inflammation.
High dose fish oil does a remarkable job of slowing the rate of tumour growth.
In MS the insulating membrane that coats nerve cells unravels due to ongoing inflammation making it difficult to transmit their signals.
Attention Deficit Disorder
Common factor in ADD is deficiency in dopamine which is increased with high dose fish oil.
The severity of ADD is directly linked to the level of silent inflammation in the blood.
Children may need higher levels of EPA and DHA due to accelerated metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids.
The increase in depression rates correlates strongly with the decrease in fish consumption.
High dose fish oil increases serotonin (low depression rates in Eskimos and Japan).
Mood lifting benefits should come within 3-6 weeks of high fish oil consumption.
Cortisol and Stress
When the body senses high Pro-Inflammatory Eicosanoids it instructs the adrenal glands to pump out cortisol which is an anti-inflammatory hormone.
However, when PIE’s are chronically elevated, high amounts of cortisol are pumped out constantly putting great stress on the adrenal glands.
This will leave you tired and lethargic all day long.
Also excess cortisol can increase insulin resistance, kill nerve cells and depress your entire immune system on a permanent basis.
Excess cortisol makes you fat, dumb and sick!
Inflammation, fats and obesity
If insulin resistance is down to silent inflammation, simply restricting calories will not work as a way to reverse obesity.
An overweight person needs to take steps to reduce arachadonic acid in their body by reducing consumption of fatty red meats and egg yolks as well as Omega 6 rich vegetable oils, as well as high glycemic load carbohydrates.
What reduces or eliminates inflammation?
High dose fish oil for one.
Ideally this should be ultra-refined because of contamination of most, if not all, fish on the planet with toxic metals.
Current state of wellness
Amount of EPA and DHA required
No existing chronic disease
Existing screaming pain
Existing neurological conditions
– Take fish oils (4-6g per day) with food as digestive enzymes will improve absorption.
– Split intake throughout the day
– It can take 30 days of increased fish oil consumption to bring about noticeable differences so ensure consistency in supplementation.
Extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, turmeric and ginger, nuts, avocado have also been found to reduce systemic inflammation so regular consumption of these foods is important.
Flaxseed oil due to high levels of alpha-linoleic acid which decreases the production of the pre-cursors of all eicosanoids which encourage inflammatory conditions. However, alpha-linoleic acid is not necessary if you are taking high dose fish oil.
Aloe vera can help dampen inflammation in the digestive tract.
Your protein choices should be those with the lowest fat content in order to reduce arichadonic acid.
You should also ensure your diet contains lots of the following anti-oxidants – they’re like a battle unit for your immune system!
– Vitamin E (hard to get enough from diet only)
– Coenzyme Q10 (hard to get enough from diet only)
– Vitamin C (Our Mixed Ascorbate supplement is high dose Vitamin C – about 30x the RDA)
– Polyphenols from berries and dark-coloured vegetables.
Simultaneously reduce your intake of Omega 6 fatty acids particularly vegetable oils. Throw out all processed starches, vegetable oils, margerine and butter, high sugar foods, canned fruits and vegetables.
Keep egg yolks to 1-2 per week as they are also high in AA.
The more you control insulin with proper nutrition habits, the less fish oil is required so reduce your consumption of starchy sugars such as pasta, potatoes, rice and bread.
Some rice or sweet potatoes are okay after hard exercise to refuel.
Take Away Messages
Parts of this are obviously quite ‘sciencey’.
It’s hard to explain certain areas without the science but it should make sense.
As always, so long as you implement the necessary action steps, you don’t really need to worry about the science anyway!
So do the following:
– Reduce your carb intake (restrict to refuelling after exercise and some fruit at breakfast)
– Increase your intake of ‘good’ fats detailed throughout the article.
– Reduce your intake of saturated fat, red meat, egg yolks, vegetables oils and of course, processed food
– Take high-grade fish oils (4-6g per day spread throughout the day) or a plant based source such as V-Pure EPA/DHA.
– Eat LOADS of organic, fresh vegetables high in antioxidants to give the Essential Fatty Acids plenty of support.