Eating fat makes you fat and unhealthy - right? Not so fast. Even with all the information readily available today regarding fat intake, it is still surprising that many people are scared to consume even small amounts of dietary fat, (naturally occurring) saturated fat in particular.
It was during the 1990s that 'low-fat' products really came to prominence and they continue to be marketed in supermarkets and on our TV screens today with the promise that they are much 'healthier' options.
The reason for this low-fat bandwagon is, in part, due to the belief that consuming fat (saturated fat especially) increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. However there have been a number of studies that show that dietary saturated fat is not the cause of CVD or CHD (1),(2).
There are further studies that show that there is no correlation between consuming saturated fat and the risk of heart attacks (3), and no associations were found between total fat, any specific types of fat or cholesterol and the risk of strokes in men during a 14 year cohort study (4).
As well as the supposed health issues listed above, there has also been a misconception that consuming dietary fat of any kind will lead to fat gain. In fact, despite being the most calorific macronutrient (9 calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates which are 4 calories per gram) dietary fat alone isn't going to cause an increase in body fat.
The issue here is that people often tend to look at foods and/or food groups in isolation and ask the question "which is healthier?", when really it would be more beneficial to think in terms of their overall diet as well, meaning that only an over-consumption of calories is going to cause fat gain - whether it be protein, carbohydrates or fats.
Admittedly an over-consumption of trans fats/hydrogenated fats that are often found in processed meats and other processed foods can certainly have a negative effect on a number of health markers(5).
There are in fact a number of health benefits that dietary fat has to offer. Full fat grass-fed dairy for example is rich in a number of fat soluble vitamins particularly vitamin K(6) which is responsible for bodily functions such as the assimilation of calcium.
Ensuring that you get adequate amounts of fat in your daily diet can also have a positive effect on hormones (especially testosterone levels) as well as having a positive effect on satiety(7).
In addition to these health benefits, eating fat can also have practical benefits. As the most calorie-dense macronutrient it can enable trainees who struggle to consume enough calories to support their training - and often their quest to gain lean muscle - to do just that.
Eating organically produced fat from a number of sources is what I would recommend. Whole fat dairy, nuts, olive oil, salmon, grass-fed meat, whole eggs, nut butters and coconut oil to name just a few. Daily fish-oil supplementation is also something I would recommend.
Looking at the overall calorie and macronutrient breakdown of an individual’s diet as well as their current body composition, state of health and specific goals is important when deciding how much dietary fat should be consumed on a daily basis.
That said, my recommendation, as a starting point, would be to aim for around 30% of overall intake to come from dietary fat or around 0.65g of dietary fat per pound of body weight. Obviously this may change slightly depending on the individual and their particular situation.
Now go and enjoy a nice steak!
(1) no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648?dopt=AbstractPlus
(2) Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association
of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease - http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.full.pdf+html
Rob Zand - Monstersupplements.com