Is Fat bad for you? Diet and nutrition trends tend to wax and wane, come and go as the years go on. A common source of contention is whether a certain macronutrient (fat, protein, or carbohydrate) is “good” or “bad” for you. Fat, in particular, is frequently an arguing point for many people.
On one side of the equation, you’ve got a whole crowd of people that blame fat consumption for everything from clogged arteries to massive weight gain. On the other, you’ve got a crowd that tries to get 70-90% of their energy from fat and praise it as the fountain of youth.
As usual, the answer tends to be somewhere in the middle. Here’s how:
What is fat?
Fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrate) that makes up most of our daily food. Basically, fat is a whole string of Carbon atoms together, with some Hydrogen, that the body breaks apart to use as energy. Different lengths of that carbon chain mean different types of fat.
Is it useful?
Fat is crucial for survival, actually. In addition to the energy it provides, fat is critical as a structural component in almost all parts of the body, from cell walls to the hormones that tell your body what to do. Without adaquete fat in the diet, the first issues that tend to show up are slowed healing, hormonal problems, dry and brittle skin, nails, and hair.
Does eating fat make me fat?
So, this is one of those “correlation, not causation” scenarios. Eating fat, in and of itself, isn’t going to add bodyfat to your frame. The body metabolizes fat for energy or uses it for structure (breaking it down from food fat and rebuilding it for its use) just like the other macros.
The issue with fat, though, is that it’s very calorically-dense. In other words, a lot of fat energy can be stored in a relatively small space. A gram of fat has around nine calories per pound, and doesn’t take up much space, versus a gram of protein or carbohydrate, which are only burnable by the body for about four calories per gram.
This makes it easy to get a lot of fat into the body very quickly, and thus pile in more calories than you intended… which adds the extra stored energy (body fat) to your waistline.
Also, the Thermic Effect of Food, which is how much energy is wasted by the actual act of breaking down and digesting food, for fat is very low. That makes it even more efficient. Basically, if you eat 100 calories of fat, you’ll lose 5-15% as heat while you’re digesting. So about 85-95% are actually going to fuel YOU. Protein, on the other hand, has a 20-35% Thermic Effect, so only 65-80% actually ends up as You Fuel.
So eating fat doesn’t make you fat, but if you’re not careful it’s easy to overeat fat… which will make you fat.
Long story short:
Fat is necessary in your diet, and it’s not bad for you. On the flipside, it’s a very efficient, slow burning energy source, so it’s easy to overdo it. Eat your fat, but keep an eye on your moderation.
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