Contrary to popular myth, fat can be good for you! Our basic nutritional requirements are provided by three macronutrients – carbohydrate, protein and fat. Micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals, are essential for keeping us healthy but are needed in smaller amounts. Although carbs are the most accessible form of energy for runners, fat is also a rich source of energy for runners and can also play an important role in our health and performance.
The Skinny on Healthy Fats
- Fat is made up of different types of fatty acids. Fatty acids are usually classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on their chemical structure. Among the polyunsaturates there are further structural differences which determine whether the fatty acid is known as an omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acid.
- Fat provides energy; 1 gram provides 37 kJ (9 kcal).
- Around 30% of our daily calorie intake should come from fats, with no more than 11% from saturated fats.
- We need essential fatty acids for healthy growth and development and to fuel the muscles.
- Fat is a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, and is necessary for their absorbtion.
- Fat promotes healthy skin and nerve function and manufactures important hormones.
Every tried making your own tortilla chips? We love boosting our healthy fat intake with this super-speedy and very tasty guacamole and homemade tortilla chips recipe.
Saturated or Unsaturated?
Fats in foods typically contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but choosing foods which contain higher amounts of unsaturated fat, and less saturated fat, is preferable.
Most of us eat too much saturated fat – it’s not great for the heart, it can raise blood cholesterol, and as a runner, it can make you feel sluggish. Try to choose less refined and nutrient-rich sources such as cheese, butter, eggs, milk, turkey, chicken and steak. These are fine to eat in moderation, but it’s best to limit more processed sources of saturated fat, such as:
- Pastries, cakes, puddings
- Chocolate and biscuits
- Cream, coconut cream and ice-cream
- Processed meats like sausages, ham, chorizo, salami, burgers and fatty cuts of meat
- Fried foods including fried chips
Yes! All the yummy things, but best to treat yourself to these every now and then, rather than include in your daily diet. It’s all about moderation.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats
These can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as improve immunity levels, and even play a role in improving your mood and brain power. Packed with nutrients, they’re great to include in our daily training diet.
So stock up on the following:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, tinned or fresh)
- Nuts and seeds
- Cold-pressed vegetable oils (rapeseed, sunflower, walnut)
Keep saturated fats to a reasonable minimum
Unsaturated fats should be an essential part of our diet
Treat yourself to oily fish – fresh tuna, tinned mackerel
Snack on seeds and nuts; sprinkle sunflower and pumpkin seeds on salads and cereal
Roast your own nuts and use them in your cooking; pine nuts on pasta, pistachios in couscous, flaked almonds on rice etc
Experiment with interesting cold-pressed oils; use olive oil instead of butter in mashed potatoes, pumpkin seed oil in salad dressings or cold-pressed rapeseed oil for frying – it’s rich in vitamin E and omega-3 and heats to an extremely high temperature without losing its nutrients with lovely, crispy results. temperature, olive oil in mashed potato
Instead of frying, try boiling, poaching, steaming, baking or grilling and add a minimal amount of fat.
Make your own salad dressings; try mixing lemon juice/vinegar, herbs and spices, with a small amount of olive oil, or even low fat natural yoghurt.
Check out the labels when shopping; you will find the amount of saturated fat itemised on the nutritional analysis.
Eat avocados regularly; we think they’re magic – packed with healthy fats, they are also rich in minerals such as potassium and they’re so yummy! Use avocados in salads, mash up with your favourite spices and spread on toast, or make this delicious guacamole.