Fat has been through a lot. From being completely vilified, to being touted as a miracle-worker by some zealots of the Paleo and Keto variety, it is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction when discussing this primary macronutrient. Like everything in health, things are more complex than simply “good” and “bad”. As the saying goes, “the dose makes the poison” and fat, being more than twice as calorie-dense as protein or carbohydrate, can certainly punch a large-hole into your daily caloric intake if eaten unmindfully! However, I’m here to discuss the myriad benefits of fat and how you can start using it to your advantage to fuel your own fat loss!
“MCTs” stands for Medium-Chain Triglycerides. Triglycerides are simply three (hence, “tri”) fatty acids attached to a Glycerol (“glyceride”) backbone. More importantly, they are the main constituent of body fat in humans. Most of the fats we eat and oils we use to cook on a day-to-day basis (with some notable exceptions) are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which are more likely to be stored as fat in the body than are MCTs. There is evidence to suggest that replacing these LCTs in your diet with MCTs, combined with a low-calorie diet, leads to a decrease in both body fat and body weight, as well as helping you maintain lean body mass at the same time! MCTs are very easy for the body to break down and use as energy and supplementation with MCTs has also been shown to increase your body’s metabolic rate, meaning you’ll burn more calories effortlessly! Dietary sources of MCTs include some dairy products and Coconut Oil – both great for cooking with and easy to incorporate into your diet.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are very long chain derivatives of alpha-linoleic acid (namely, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)). Humans cannot synthesize fatty acids with a double bond past the Omega 9 position in their carbon chain. Therefore, the consumption of dietary Omega 3 (and Omega 6) is essential, as we need it to survive and cannot produce it ourselves.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found predominantly in handy fish oil supplements and are also present in the flesh of oil-rich fish such as mackerel, salmon, kippers, herring, trout and sardines (but it is not found in such abundance in farmed fish). Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of a fatal heart attack and as little as 1g/day of Omega 3 has been shown to reduce the occurrence of sudden death due to cardiovascular disease by 45%.
The mechanism by which it does this is what makes it useful for those of us trying to get into shape and lose fat. EPA and DHA have been shown to lower the concentration of triglycerides (i.e. fat) in the blood, both in the fasted state and after a meal. This helps prevent blood clot formation, while also helping us shed those extra pounds of fat! As an added bonus, Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to thin the blood, thus decreasing inflammation, and may even have cancer prevention properties.
It is important to note that Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids serve a different function in the body. A favourable ratio of Omega 3: Omega 6 is required to maximize the body’s fat-burning potential. The Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio will significantly influence the ratio of the ensuing eicosanoids (i.e. hormones) and will alter the body’s metabolic function. Therefore, Omega 3 and Omega 6 need to be consumed in balanced proportions. A healthy Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio ranges from 1:1 to 1:4. Typical western diets provide ratios of between 10:1 and 30:1. It is therefore recommended to either massively increase the consumption of oily fish in our diet or, to make things easier (and arguably tastier), take a handy Fish Oil capsule every day in order to ensure your body is in the best position to burn fat all year-round.
A high-fat vs high carbohydrate diet, when total calories are equal, has been shown to decrease serum fat levels in the high fat group in comparison to the high carbohydrate group. This seems to be due to a shift in the body’s metabolism to ketogenesis- the production of ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are favourably formed over the triglycerides which would otherwise be produced on a high-carb diet- and are used for energy, leading to greater fat-loss over time.
Fatty snacks such as nuts, seeds and nut butters pack a huge bang for their buck! Compared to their carb-loaded counterparts (such as potato crisps or popcorn), they are undeniably more calorific. However, research tells us that snacking on these higher-fat snacks makes us more likely to be in shape long-term. This is due to the fact that they are far more satiating than their high-carb equivalent ie they are far more likely to keep you fuller for longer. Individuals who regularly consume high-fat snacks such as nuts have been shown to be less likely to become overweight and obese.
Overall, using fat to fuel your fat loss is undoubtedly effective, albeit somewhat counter-intuitive. The major take-home point is not to be afraid of fat. Eat it mindfully and choose your sources well. Including fat as a weapon in your arsenal can be extremely effective in the ongoing fight against excess body fat.
About the Author
Rob Browne is a Medical student from Ireland. His passion for health and wellness is matched only by his love for food. Having previously worked in recipe development under flavor scientist Dr. Rachel Edwards-Stuart and maverick Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, he uses his experience to make recipes so delicious you’ll forget that they’re healthy!