Understanding the importance of consuming healthy fats in your diet is crucial for reaping their benefits while avoiding the negative consequences of poor fat choices. While carbohydrates provide energy for endurance athletes, it is fats that offer long-lasting fuel to enhance performance and aid in recovery. However, it is essential to consume the right kinds of fats while steering clear of those that can compromise your health.#
Say No to Seed Oils
When it comes to nutrition, labeling foods as "good" or "bad" is not an effective approach. Moderation is key in maintaining a balanced diet. However, there is an exception to this rule when it comes to fats, particularly seed oils. In the past, clever marketing led many to believe that red meat, dairy products, and eggs were detrimental to health, while vegetable oils were considered healthy. Consequently, highly processed oils and margarine became staples in numerous households.However, recent discoveries have debunked these claims.
It is now evident that seed oils, excessive sugar consumption, and sedentary lifestyles are the primary culprits behind the increasing rates of metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. Additionally, the processing methods used for seed oils, including exposure to pressure, high heat, and chemical refinement, result in changes at a chemical level, transforming some of these oils into trans fats.
Understanding Trans Fats and PUFAs
Trans fats have a detrimental impact on hormone production and heart health by raising LDL cholesterol levels and lowering HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, they contribute to systemic inflammation, as confirmed by a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Seed oils also contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These fats are unstable and tend to oxidize when exposed to certain temperatures. The oxidation process releases free radicals that can damage cells and negatively affect the immune system. Excessive consumption of PUFAs leads to inflammation in the joints, gut, and brain, disrupts energy metabolism, and may even increase the risk of cancer.Dr. Cate Shanahan has compiled a list of oils to eliminate from your diet, which she refers to as the "Hateful Eight." These oils include canola, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, soy, grapeseed, and rice bran oils.
Healthy Fats to Include in Your Diet
Incorporating healthy fats into your diet is essential for all athletes, especially those engaged in endurance activities. These fats provide slow-burning fuel, support joint, cell, and brain health, and contribute to the resilience of muscles and connective tissues.
The following foods are excellent sources of healthy fats:
- Oily Fish: To increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and trout are your best choices. While plant-derived sources like flax, chia seeds, and walnuts offer some benefits, the bioavailability of omega-3s in these sources is relatively low. Opt for wild-caught fish, as they are healthier and more sustainable.
- Free-Range Eggs: Despite being unjustly demonized in the past, eggs are actually beneficial for your health. The yolks, in particular, contain lutein, zeaxanthin, choline, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Free-range organic eggs have even richer yolks due to the chickens' pasture grazing diet.
- Grass-Fed Beef: Contrary to popular belief, red meat, specifically grass-fed beef or bison, is highly nutritious. It provides fats, protein, and essential minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, and B vitamins. Grass-fed options offer up to six times more omega-3s than factory-farmed alternatives, along with increased levels of inflammation-fighting EPA and DHA. Choosing organic options further ensures the absence of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
- Organic Dairy: Saturated fat was previously vilified, leading to the misconception that dairy is unhealthy. However, organic butter, milk, and cheese are excellent sources of long-lasting fuel through fats, protein, and bone-protecting calcium. Grass-fed dairy products have a better nutritional profile. Grass-fed milk, for instance, has a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio compared to conventional milk. Incorporating fermented dairy like kefir or Greek yogurt provides the additional benefit of promoting gut health through probiotics.
- Avocado, Olive, Macadamia, and Coconut Oils: Eliminating the Hateful Eight seed oils from your cooking doesn't leave you without alternatives. Olive, avocado, macadamia, and coconut oils, along with grass-fed butter, can be used as excellent substitutes. Olive oil is suitable for various cooking methods up to 400 degrees, while avocado oil works best in skillet cooking due to its higher smoke point. Macadamia and peanut oils offer flavorful alternatives, and coconut oil is ideal for baking.
Fueling the Right Way with Fat
Achieving a well-balanced fat intake is not a complicated task once you know which foods to include and avoid. Minimize or eliminate seed oils from your diet and replace them with olive, coconut, or avocado oils. For meals, prioritize organic, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats and dairy, and wild-caught oily fish to obtain your necessary fat intake. When snacking, combine your carbohydrate sources with nuts and seeds to add a sixth fat source packed with micronutrients.
By optimizing your fat intake, you will experience enhanced energy levels during endurance activities such as running, biking, or swimming. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet provides long-lasting fuel, promotes joint, cell, and brain health, and supports the resilience of muscles and connective tissues. Make informed choices to include the right fats while avoiding harmful ones, and you will notice a positive impact on your overall well-being.
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- Heins, B. (2021). Grass-fed cows produce healthier milk. Retrieved from https://extension.umn.edu/pasture-based-dairy/grass-fed-cows-produce-healthier-milk
- Mozaffarian, D. et al. (2004, April). Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women. Retrieved from [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15051604/
- Shanahan, C. (2020, September 3). PUFA-Project: Scientific References on Seed Oil Toxicity. Retrieved from
- Toy, S. (2023, February 26). Cake Could Be the Secret to Teaching Children About Healthy-Eating Habits. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/cake-could-be-the-secret-to-teaching-kids-about-healthy-eating-habits-c4947362?st=3srhi1xwb4qkkhw&reflink=article_email_share