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Fitness Nutrition: Get the skinny on fats

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

This is the second of a five-part series on nutrition.

Fat has gotten a bad rap for most of this century and has been blamed for everything from chronic heart disease to obesity. Although two-thirds of Americans are overweight according to the National Center for Health Statistics, we are not alone in the battle of the bulge. Denmark recently passed a Fat Tax in an effort to limit the population’s intake of fatty foods, and last month Hungary implemented a law imposing special taxes on foods with high fat, salt and sugar content.

In reality, the culprit for our calorically derived health problems is a lack of exercise and overeating, not the consumption of fat. Fat is enormously important for overall health and athletic performance and contributes to hormone production, joint lubrication and cell membrane formation. According to Ben Greenfield, one of the nation’s top triathlon and fitness experts, the trick is to choose fats that can be readily utilized by the body as an energy source. Here are the healthy fats your body needs:

  1. Monounsaturated fats can be found in an enormous range of foods including sunflower seeds, olive oil, almonds, fortified cereals, olives, natural peanut butter, lima beans, flax seed, banana chips, wild rice, avocado, shellfish, pea pods, and prunes.

  2. Medium chain triglycerides are found in abundance in coconut foods, such as coconut milk and coconut oil.

  3. Healthy saturated fats (in moderation), such as omega-3 eggs, unsalted butter and organic beef, bison or buffalo.

Prior to exercise, fats should be tapered and eaten with the main meals of the day rather than being relied on as workout fuel. The only exceptions to this rule are Medium Chain Triglycerides which can be tolerated without gastrointestinal distress and used as long term energy sources during multi-hour workouts.

To avoid weight gain, formation of free radicals, and other debilitating health problems, stay clear of fats which are processed, preserved, chemically modified, or exposed to high temperatures during production. These fats include French fries, most fast food, shortening, pastries, soup mixes, chips, crackers, cookies, cream cheese, and corn based cooking oils.

This is not to say that you can’t occasionally grab a bag of potato chips or order a bowl of vegetable stir-fry sautéed in sesame oil, but these should be exceptions to the rule. If these types of foods are staples in your diet, you’re doing your athletic performance and overall health a huge disservice.

Finally, here’s a practical take-away tip: A typical day’s worth of healthy fats might include a tablespoon of almond butter and a couple of fish-oil capsules with breakfast, extra-virgin olive oil and avocados on a salad at lunch, a handful of cashews in the afternoon, and a small filet of salmon with dinner. See how easy it is to eat fat and still be healthy?

Barbara Hoots is a veteran Spinning(R) instructor at Tony’s Gym and a contributing columnist for Spinning News and Indoor Cycle Instructor Pro. She has designed award-winning studios for the U.S. Army, Half Moon Resort in Jamaica and numerous health clubs and universities. Visit her website at www.spinroomdesign.com.