The fitness industry survives on extreme’s.
Everything is either the best or the worst…
Amazing or terrible…
Healthy or unhealthy…
It’s sexier, more appealing, and marketable to sell extremes.
Selling moderation…not so easy.
People want insane results and they want them now. It’s easier to sell a magical elixir guaranteed to melt fat and pack on muscle than it is to sell an intelligent diet and consistent training program.
Why train and eat right when I could take a pill with my morning mug o’ joe and get jackt in 14 days or less?
See what I mean?
Extreme sells. Moderation doesn’t.
What’s Fat Got to Do With It?
Fat is the quintessential victim of fitness extremism.
Calorically dense and a waste of calories, fat is touted by some extremists as the Adolf Hitler of macronutrients.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, other camps (like the hacks selling Bullet Proof Coffee) swear by high-fat diets and their limitless health benefits. I mean, shit, Dave Asprey, creator of Bullet Proof Coffee, recommends adding upwards of 400 calories worth of butter & MCT Oil into your morning coffee in order to, supposedly, improve a variety of health markers.
Fitness extremism at it’s finest.
Q: So What’s the Deal: Is Fat Good or Bad?
Fat isn’t inherently good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.
O.K…Then What Is It?
What makes fat “good” or “bad” depends on 3 major factors. Listed in no particular order of importance, these factors are:
1) Total Daily Caloric Intake
2) Ratio of Fat Consumed in Relation to Protein & Carbohydrates
3) Quality of Fat Consumed
To make sense of this, let’s discuss each individual factor.
1. Total Daily Caloric Intake
Analyzing a single food in isolation, irrespective of total calories consumed on a consistent basis, is a waste of time.
Granted, calories aren’t the only important component but no one can intelligently deny the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight through managing energy balance (calories in vs. calories out).
Especially considering obesity is arguably the leading cause of life-threatening diseases, not to mention the crucial role nutrition plays in maintaining a healthy body weight, total daily caloric intake must be taken into account.
Specifically, it’s important to note that fat gain is a direct cause of eating more calories than you burn on a consistent basis. It doesn’t matter if the calories come from protein, carbohydrates, or fat…an excess of calories (regardless of the source) will result in fat gain.
To illustrate, you could eat a high-fat diet for months on end but, assuming you consistently ate less than your maintenance caloric intake, you wouldn’t gain an ounce of fat.
Conversely, you could eat a diet with next to zero fat but, so long as you consistently ate over your maintenance caloric intake, you would get progressively fatter.
When it comes to weight management – which could be coined “health management” – it’s impossible to say fat is inherently “good” or “bad” without looking at the bigger picture: total calories consumed.
2. Ratio of Fat Consumed in Relation to Protein & Carbohydrates
Related to the previous point, the ratio of fat consumed in relation to protein and carbohydrates is of the utmost importance for body composition, performance, and overall health & function.
While total caloric intake is obviously important, the macronutrient composition of these calories drastically influences how your body functions.
To illustrate, protein has the highest thermic effect of all three macronutrients. This means that a higher protein intake will increase thermogenesis and essentially allow you to burn more calories at rest. Furthermore, protein is the only macronutrient capable of building and maintaining muscle tissue. Considering the high metabolic energy demands of muscle, it’s no wonder that high(er) protein diets consistently prove to be superior for weight loss and long-term maintenance.
Fat, on the other hand, has the lowest thermic effect of all three macronutrients. While not inherently a bad thing, eating a high ratio of fat to protein decreases thermogenesis which can make it difficult to lose fat and maintain a healthy body weight. Plus, fat alone cannot build or maintain muscle. Consequently, a higher fat intake could potentially reduce your protein intake making it difficult to build muscle and reap the associated benefits.
As for carbohydrates…
When it comes to sports performance, a high(er) carbohydrate intake has consistently shown to be more beneficial than a high(er) fat intake.
Not as relevant for short max effort attempts (oh hai, powerlifters!), carbohydrates are drastically more effective at increasing and sustaining a high work capacity.
Keep in mind…
I’m not saying fat is bad for you.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Eating a diet filled with a variety high quality fats holds numerous mental, physical, and hormonal benefits.
I am saying, however, that we can’t view fat as inherently “good” or “bad” in an isolated situation. Rather, fat intake – and all intake, for that matter – needs to be considered along with the overall diet and lifestyle of the individual in question.
3. Quality of Fat Consumed
If you’re reading this article, odds are you understand that dietary fats aren’t inherently unhealthy, dangerous, or fattening. Unfortunately, lot’s of people still don’t know this because of poorly conducted research and ever-present fitness marketing scams.
Let’s start by spreading the word to let them know eating fat won’t make you fat! In fact, fat actually provides countless health benefits <— Click to tweet!
Once people understand dietary fat isn’t inherently unhealthy or fattening, it becomes important to discuss the various types of fats and basic pros/cons each one has to offer.
As a very brief intro…
What about “bad” fats?
Call me crazy (or hate on me in the comments section) but I have trouble labeling any fat in isolation as inherently bad.
Granted, trans fats (those found in processed foods, cookies, margarine, etc) definitely aren’t good for us…but whether or not they’re “bad” more than likely depends on total quantity consumed as well as the overall make-up of your diet.
That being said…
…this is not an excuse to go out and eat a diet solely consisting of Entenmann’s powdered donuts and margarine sticks.
Rather, this information is meant to help you understand that fat is not inherently bad for you and can actually provide a myriad of health benefits in the context of an overall healthy diet.
Does This Mean You Should Emphasize Fat In Your Diet?
There’s rarely a legitimate reason to emphasize fat (although, occasionally, it is warranted) in your diet.
What about good fats?
Well…this is where things get iffy.
Some people (like the Bullet Proof Coffee Buffoons) claim that emphasizing good fats will lead to a variety of improved health outcomes. Of course, they also sell their own products that just so happen to provide energy that’s “6x stronger” than other good fats.
Their words, not mine.
What’s legitimately insane is their dietary recommendations. According to their website, “the best cup of coffee on earth” includes at least 2tbsp of Kerrygold Butter (200 calories) and 1-2tbsp of their own MCT Oil (130-260 calories).
What would normally be a 0-calorie mug o’ joe instantly transforms into a 400-calorie beverage with all the calories coming solely from fat.
Now we have a problem.
See, this is the quintessence of why it’s impossible to label any food in isolation “good” or “bad.”
As stand-alone’s, I have no problem with butter or MCT Oil. However, put them together to make a 400-calorie beverage with no added nutritional value other than purportedly “healthy fats” and now I’ve got a problem with both of ’em.
Think about it: For a 120lbs female whose maintenance caloric intake is 1,600 calories…this bullet proof coffee makes up 25% of her daily intake! Then if she wants to lose fat and drops her calories down to 1,400…she’s getting nearly half of her calories from fat.
Emphasize “Good” Fats In Appropriate Portions!
There’s no reason to go out of your way to emphasize fat in your diet.
Similarly, there’s no reason to eat obscene amounts of purportedly “good” fats.
The reality is most of us (especially in the Western world) get plenty of fats as tag along’s in our standard daily meals.
Whether we’re eating fish, avocado, olives, eggs, or any other food source with high-quality fat…our diets generally have more than enough fat as-is; trying to get anymore is likely redundant, a waste of calories, and possibly even harmful.
So what’s the takeaway?
Don’t emphasize fat in your diet.
It’s just not necessary.
Instead, focus on incorporating a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods with varying tastes, colors, textures, and scents.
Odds are you’ll consume more than enough fat from eating an overall “healthy” diet without actively emphasizing it.
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helped to clear up some of the confusion regarding dietary fat.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.