Fat is a mysterious thing, no doubt. Why do some people hold onto it like glue, while others lose it without ever even trying? So many misnomers abound when it comes to fat. What’s more, there are different kinds of fat that we all have in our bodies. In this article, we’re going to explore the ins and outs of body fat. By the time we’re finished here, my hope is that you’ll have a good grasp on this essential part of our bodily makeup, and the ability to do what’s needed to be as healthy as you can be when it comes to your own body, mind, and spirit!
Why do we need fat in our bodies?
Our bodies need to eat fat, plain and simple. Fats are essential, as are proteins and carbohydrates. Fats, proteins, and carbs are known as macronutrients. Your body needs them all, in the right quantities. Vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients. Your body needs them, too. Macronutrients and micronutrients need each other. Many vitamins need fat in order for the body to take them in. Vitamins A, D, K, and E are fat soluble vitamins. This simply means that in order for the body—and more namely, the intestines—to absorb them, they need fat.
Our body requires fat to fulfill its very basic biological functions. Even moreso than proteins and carbs, fats are the main source of energy. More succinctly, fats provide our cells with 9kcals per gram consumed.This is four times the amount of energy given to us by fiber, for example. It’s twice as much given to us by protein or carbs. As you can see, fat is our numero uno energy source.
We store fat within our tissues, to be used as needed. When our body needs them for various functions, it makes use of them. For example, our bodies need fat to maintain a healthy internal temperature, to protect the internal organs, and to feed our cells what they need. Many hormones in our bodies require fat to maintain and sustain balance. And as you all probably know by now, healthy hormones are essential for a healthy life.
Our brains also need fats to function properly. In fact, our brains are composed of quite a lot of fat—60% to be exact. Even our eyes contain fat. Our retinas contain lipids composed of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our brains are also made up of DHA. This is an essential fatty acid also found in various foods we eat. Fatty fish and sea veggies are prime examples. And we need to eat these foods in order to feed our eyes and brains with DHA.
While our bodies make their own fat, they can’t make it all. This means we need to eat a diet that’s rich in healthy fats. We’ll talk about the best fatty foods to eat further on.
When and how does fat become excessive?
The cells in our bodies need fat to thrive. Cells need fat in order to grow. Cells turn fat into energy. They use fat as fuel. If we consume more fat than our body is using for energy, the fat stores itself in our tissues. This is when fat can become excessive, causing us to gain weight.
Our bodies have two different kinds of fat. There’s subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat. Visceral fat is deep within the body, and surrounds our organs, while subcutaneous fat is just below our skin. Our genetics play a role in how much fat we hold onto, as does our lifestyle, of course. Subcutaneous fat becomes excessive when we lead a sedentary lifestyle, without moving and grooving on a regular basis.
Our bodies need aerobic activity, anaerobic activity, and everything in between. We need to build muscle mass as well. These are all factors that play into our ability to gain or lose fat. If we take in way more calories than we burn, we’ll also hold onto more fat than is ideal. In addition, people with diabetes, and those who are insulin resistant tend to carry excessive amounts of fat.
Subcutaneous fat and its functions
This fat, which is also the deep layer of your skin, has several biological functions. We all need it in order to survive. Its five primary functions include:
- The storage of fat
- Regulating your body temperature
- Connects the dermis layer of skin to the muscles and bones
- Pads the muscles and bones, serving as a protective layer
- Connects the blood vessels and nerves to your muscles, acting as a passageway of sorts
If you’re wondering whether you have too much subcutaneous fat, you’ll want to measure your BMI, (body mass index). A normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI of 25 to 29 signals being overweight, while a BMI of 30 or more translates to obesity. Measuring your waistline will also give you a good idea as to whether you’re holding on to extra fat or not. Men with a waistline under 40 inches are typically classified as being within a healthy range. Women with waistlines under 35 are also considered normal. When the numbers go above these two specifications, it’s time to pay attention.
What is visceral belly fat
Visceral fat lives in the abdomen, near the liver, intestines, and tummy. It’s difficult to measure how much visceral fat you have, given that the only way to do so is with an MRI or CT scan. Of all the fat in your body, 10% is the amount of visceral fat you should have. This abstract, published in the Journal of Digestive Diseases, explains further just how visceral fat functions within the body, and why we need it—in the right amounts, of course.
Why should I get rid of visceral fat?
If you have high amounts of visceral fat, you’ll want to make some lifestyle changes. Holding onto too much visceral fat is more serious than simply being overweight. It’s the fat that goes beyond the fat which lies just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat surrounds our organs, making it far more dangerous than holding onto extra subcutaneous fat. Having visceral fat surrounding our organs is a precursor to the diseases of inflammation we spoke of above. Luckily, we can get rid of visceral belly fat, and even prevent it from accumulating in the first place.
Getting rid of excessive amounts of visceral fat typically involves making significant lifestyle changes. Doing aerobic (cardio) exercise on a regular basis is one way. Doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) is another. And of course, eating the right foods—a nutrient-dense whole foods diet, is also essential. If you have too much visceral fat, don’t worry yourself too much. Just take gradual steps to upgrade your wellness routine.
Belly fat and aging
Why does it seem, as the years pass, the bigger our bellies get? Belly fat increases with age for many. But, in an ideal world, we should keep belly fat at bay because it can be really detrimental to our health—beyond reasons like looking good in a swimsuit. Too much visceral fat hanging out around the tummy can actually lead to diseases like sleep apnea, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even premature death. This is why it’s important to do the work now, rather than pay the price later.
Why we need to have fat in our diet
While it may seem strange, your body fat needs healthy dietary fats to stay healthy. In other words, eat fat to lose the fat you don’t want. For so long we’ve been told by various industries that a low-fat/no-fat diet was the way to go. But, those low-fat/no-fat foods are man-made. They’re processed. They don’t come directly from the source—Mother Nature. We were told to eat and drink pure sugar before eating healthy fats like full-fat dairy, for example. We know now, that’s all wrong.
Fats Are not the villain—not good fats, anyway. The fats in our entire body, especially our brains, need omega-3 fatty acids to thrive. Our waistlines need it, too. Are you wondering which fats are good and which aren’t? Not all fats are created equal. Here are the ones you’ll want to eat, to keep the fat on and in your body happy and healthy.
The best fatty fruit for getting rid of unhealthy fat is the avocado. It’s rich in B vitamins, and is the best fruit to eat to lose weight. I love adding avocados to egg dishes, smoothies, salads, and Buddha bowls. Just don’t get carried away with the tortilla chips, should you make guacamole. Those chips contain some of the unhealthy fats we’ll cover in a bit.
Fresh fish come from rivers and oceans, and have naturally healthy fats. When we eat them, we gain their omega-3 fatty goodness. Some of the best fatty fish to include in your diet are: tuna, trout, clams, herring, cod, snow crab, mussels, oysters, sea bass, and shrimp. Sea veggies like chlorella, nori, and spirulina are also high in DHA, for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Plain, Greek yogurt that’s full of healthy fat is way better for you than its low-fat, sugar-laden counterpart. Eggs are one of my favorite staples. Once believed to be detrimental to our cholesterol levels, they’re now part of almost every healthy eater’s diet. They’re heart healthy, and a good source of protein, choline, biotin, cholesterol (which we need), vitamin A, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. I also love the many ways you can cook eggs. Hard boil them, scramble them in coconut oil, whip up a veggie omelet, poach them on top of potatoes—the meals are endless.
Beef, olives, nuts, seeds, nut butters, dark chocolate
Beef is a healthy fat, especially the grass-fed version. When you buy grass-fed beef, you’re giving your body and mind the healthy fat it needs. Other foods containing good fat sources include: olives, nuts and seeds, nut butters, and seed butters like tahini. Dark chocolate is also great. These are all foods you should be eating often to feed your body with the fat it needs.
Organic, extra-virgin olive oil, organic, unrefined coconut oil, and organic avocado oil are the best oils to have in your pantry. Avoid the hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated ones, which have many ill-effects. They’re particularly high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we Westerners consume far too much of. They’re a necessary part of our diet. But, when we eat more than just the small quantities we need, and not enough of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids which we need to eat more of, an imbalance occurs. This imbalance can lead to a myriad of health conditions we want to avoid.
Chronic inflammation is one of them, and chronic inflammation leads to almost every degenerative disease process of our modern day. Even scientific studies explain how a diet with too many omega-6 fatty acids, and too little omega-3 fatty acids triggers diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. This particular study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is one such study.
The oils you’ll want to steer clear of are:
- Cottonseed oil
- Canola oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Peanut oil
- Rice bran oil
- Sunflower oil
Consuming these oils every now and again, in small amounts, isn’t going to be terrible, it’s just that you really want to focus on the ones that are going to have really positive effects on your body and mind.
Omega-3 healthy fats and weight loss
Eating greater amounts of omega-3’s in your diet is really good for getting rid of the body’s unhealthy fat, especially extra belly fat, which can lead to some of the more serious diseases we all want to avoid as we age. And most of us are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Even young children need more of them. A study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests a connection between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and ADHD. You can read the study here.
As you can see, fats are a mysterious thing. But, hopefully less so for you after having read this article. Fat isn’t a bad thing. It’s necessary. You just want to have the right amount of it in your body in order to live a healthy, happy life—my wish for all of you. May you all stay healthy and happy, and fill your diet with good fats—one of life’s great pleasures!