Should you avoid fat, reduce it, or go gangbusters on it in your quest for health and performance?
Welcome to the great, big, juicy low fat/no fat/full fat issue because if you research the subject of fat and health you will fast find three wholly contradictory themes:
- Eating fat makes you fat. Therefore you should eat none. Ever. Fat is the devil
- Fat is awesome for you. It is the font of all life. Eat bacon, eggs, butter and cheese like they are going out of fashion for a perfect six pack and guns even Arnie would envy
- Some fats are bad, others are good. So you should spend your entire life reading labels and spotting good from bad
Let's start with number one: 'fat makes you fat'
This is a neat hypothesis, but it's bollocks. Truth is a crappy diet, no exercise, and a life spent between your sofa, bed and office chair makes you fat. Ice cream, left well alone in the fridge, in fact has nothing to do with it.
But what this hypothesis did do very successfully from the 1980s onwards was demonise all fatty foods. Low-fat became a thing, and low-fat versions of our favourite unhealthy foods turned up everywhere.
And lo, everyone magically became fit, healthy and strong overnight.
Oh no, hang on, nothing changed at all and the western world as a whole became ever fatter still. Whoops.
Truth is, fat-free, or low-fat versions of otherwise unhealthy foods are as helpful to health, fitness and wellbeing as diet sodas. With the fat gone they invariably taste hideous, and so in fat's place, these foods are plugged to the hilt with sugars and deeply unhealthy sweeteners.
They are worse than the full fat versions they began life as.
How to deal with this: avoid all low-fat and zero-fat versions of any food you like. If you want and love these foods, go full fat and be done with it.
Eat low fat foods and you'll magically turn into a lithe and lusty fitness goddess. Believe that and we have a bridge to sell you...
Which brings us to number two: 'fat is awesome for you'
Conveniently, this hypothesis lets you eat as much previously demonised yet delightfully indulgent foods as much as you like and all in the name of health and fitness. So next time you are tucking into your second English breakfast in as many minutes, you are no longer fast-tracking yourself to the nearest cardiac ward, you are in fact working out.
Unsurprisingly, a dietary doctrine that actively encourages steak, eggs, butter, lard, and cheese has become very popular and has a lot of very awesomely healthy and cool looking folks championing it the world over.
So it must be good, right?
Well first up, let's remember the Marlboro Man also looked awesomely healthy and cool. Until he got lung cancer and died a shrivelled brown husk in hospital that is. An image which, funnily enough, never made the ad campaigns.
The point is, heavy intakes of animal fats from dairy and meat, processed meats (yes, bacon is a processed meat in case you were wondering, as is chorizo, all ham, and salami) have long been heavily linked to heart disease, cancer and a lot of other things that will really mess up your next race.
So even if eating them like the world is ending will sort your abs today, it will end your own world early in the long run.
How to deal with this: less fat from animal products is the only way to go, but if you enjoy these foods aim for moderation and always go full fat when eating them, not low fat (see above)
Bacon: killing pigs and people early for years, yet miraculously made cool again by a marketing campaign from the bacon industry. World Health Organisation has it down as a carcinogen on a par with cigarettes in case you were on the fence here
And finally, cue drum roll please, number three: some fats are bad, others are good
Complicated as it might sound, this is in fact the answer.
Saturated fats are bad, you want to avoid or minimise these at all times. You'll find them in meat and dairy products
Trans-fats are also truly rubbish and are a sort of Franken-fat, created when otherwise liquid oils are artificially hardened into partially hydrogenated fats. You'll find these in baked goods, biscuits/cookies, crisps/chips, cakes, popcorn and margarine. Avoid.
Unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are the good guys. Find these in nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, coconuts and coconut oil, olive oil. You can, and should, eat plenty of these. They are a great source of calories, help lower cholesterol and heart disease risk, taste awesome, and - for all of us endurance athletes - are the perfect way to help switch our bodies into a powerful fat-burning state for max performance.
So there you have it. Unsurprisingly the answer revolves around moderation, a quality varied diet, and common sense while the polar opposites of miracle low-fat yoghurts and miracle heart-busting meals can be left on the lunatic fringes where they belong.
Enjoy some good unsaturated fats in an awesome diet, train hard and power into a new world of performance
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