Fat are the delicious food that we have always been told are bad for us, which has caused hesitation about indulging in them. However, do we know why we have been hesitant, where the confusion has come from and what sort of havoc this has caused, not only for soccer players, but also for our society in general? Probably not.
Different Types of Fats
We need to first begin by distinguishing between fats, because there are good fats and bad fats, and within the good fats, we need to balance our consumption of them.
The good fats that we should be including in our diets are:
- Monounsaturated fats. These most commonly come from high fat fruits, such as avocados, along with nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and walnuts. Olive oil is another common place to get your monounsaturated fat from. They have been shown to lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol and may even help with fat loss.
- Polyunsaturated Fat. This category of fat is made up of by omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Although I bashed on Omega-6 in cooking oils a second ago, they are healthy fats when consumed in a 1:1 ratio with omega-3 fats. You can find these fats in naturally good ratios through salmon, fish oil, sunflower oil and seeds. Having a good dose of omega-3 fats in your diet is so important that I recommend taking cod liver oil supplement daily.
- Saturated fat. Conventional wisdom has unfortunately taught most people that saturated fats are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. This would mean avoiding animal fats and topical oils, e.g. coconut oil. There have been hunter-gatherer tribes that have consumed 50-70% of their calories from saturated fats without health problems. People who live in Tokelau, a territory in New Zealand eat a diet that is half saturated fats and yet have the best cardiovascular health in the WORLD. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, has acknowledged that saturated fats are not the cause of the obesity crisis or heart disease after a year review of research. Luckily, more and more studies are starting to come to show that saturated fats are not the problem. So eat saturated fats, its one of the best energy sources for your body, it’s one of the most satiating foods, meaning it will keep you full longer, and it’s the best food to boost testosterone. One of the main concerns there was with saturated fats was that people thought that it was bad due to clogging your arteries with raising your cholesterol. Fortunately, they were wrong, which I will get into, in detail, below.
There are also three fats that we should be avoiding. They are:
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. These are saturated fats that have been chemically altered to fit specific needs of the food industry, such as having a high melting point, smooth texture and being reusable as a deep-frying oil. They are a specific kind of trans-fat that you should be looking for on food labels. Due to the thickening of this oil during creation, it raises blood pressure after consumption, along with scaring the internal walls of arteries.
- Trans-fatty acids. This type of fat comes from taking polyunsaturated fat and heat processing it. Trans fats allow processed foods to have a longer shelf life, which is gross once you think about it. Creating a fat that chemically alters the natural decay of food cannot be good for your body. Trans fats are one of the biggest contributing factors to heart disease in America. The FDA is currently looking into making them illegal in the United States. Lets hope they go through with it and recommend replacing them with healthier fats. (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Omega-6 cooking oils. These also come from polyunsaturated fats, but are chemically altered in a different way to create cooking oils. These oils you have to be careful with, because they cause us to consume extreme amounts of Omega-6 fats, which have been shown to promote cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
- This table here is helpful for picking out good cooking oils to use.
So where did we go wrong with fats?
Cholesterol is where we went wrong with fats. Discussing cholesterol can get very geeky when it comes to our biology, but hopefully I can explain it well enough so that we can understand and see where the confusion comes from around cholesterol.
Cholesterol is essential for our bodies
Cholesterol is a modified steroid and is a necessary component of our cell membranes. It’s primary function is to build and maintain cell membranes, but it also protects cells from toxics, plays a major role in the production of sex hormones, insulate nerve fibers and converts sunlight into Vitamin D. Just seeing what cholesterol does for our body shows that thinking cholesterol is a bad thing is a mistake.
What is interesting about cholesterol is that our bodies make about 85% of what is in our blood stream. The other 15% comes from what you eat, mostly from animal fats, which are saturated fats.
Cholesterol: the good, the bad and the confusion
If you have heard anything about cholesterol, then you have most likely have heard of good cholesterol, HDL, and of bad cholesterol, LDL. Let us fix one of the first mistakes there is. HDL and LDL are not cholesterol; they are the proteins that transport the cholesterol in our body.
LDL is the major transporter of cholesterol in your body. It takes the cholesterol from your liver and moves it around your body to the necessary organs. The reason LDL is referred to as the “bad cholesterol” is because if your diet is off, then the LDL particles become small and dense, which have been shown to do strange things, like drop cholesterol off on the walls of your arteries, which is plaque. (10, 11, 12)
Luckily, we have HDL. HDL cleans up cholesterol from your body and takes it back to the liver to be recycled. This means that we want a diet that promotes our LDL to be large and do their job correctly, and we want to have more HDL in our system. This is where eating the right fats come into play.
We need saturated fats in our diets in order to keep cholesterol out of off the walls of our arteries, especially since we are soccer players who need to eat many carbohydrates, which I discuss in this article here. Studies show that low-fat diets reduce the size of LDL particles, while high-fat diets increase them, which is what we want. (20, 21, 22, 23) Low fat diets also reduce the amount of HDL in our systems, which allow more plaque to build up. (24, 25, 26)
The studies make it apparent, we need saturated fats in our diet to lower our chances of heart disease, especially due to the carb intake that soccer players need.
If that was not enough to convince fats are good…
When we look at correlations between fats and epidemics in our modern world, things get a little scary. Now, correlations do not mean causation, but when taken in the context of the studies and information we just discussed, these correlations make a lot of sense.
In Europe, the countries that eat the most saturated fats, such as France, Germany and Switzerland have the lowest risk of heart disease, which seems backwards based on our conventional wisdom that fats are bad. (27)
A second correlation for you to think about is that in 1977, when the FDA recommended the low-fat diet is about the exact same time that the obesity epidemic started. When I first read this, it blew my mind, but when you look at how good saturated fats are for your body, and what massive carb intake without fats to balance them out, it makes sense. If people are reducing their use of butter and replacing it with omega-6 cooking oils such as vegetable oils, then, as studies show, they will be at an increased risk of obesity and heart disease. (28, 29, 30, 31)
So how much fat should we be eating?
Our fat intake should be divided into 3rds, based off the 3 good fats we talked about above, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. We want our diets to be about 30% fat. This means, that each type of fat gets its share of being 10% of our diet. While these percentages are a bit vague, as long as we are sticking to the right types of fats, and keeping them in a balance of roughly 3rds, we should not be having too many problems.
We want to be getting 1/3rd of our daily fats from each natural fat
- Saturated sources:
- Animal fats
- Tropical oils
- Monounsaturated sources:
- Raw nuts
- Olive oils
- Polyunsaturated sources:
- Fatty fish and seafood
- Fish oil (I recommend taking Cod Liver Oil daily)
Remember to try to eat organic as much as possible, especially when it comes to your meat choices.
Fats are an extremely important element of our diets, but tend to be the part that is left out of them, especially saturated fats. They play major roles in our hormone productions, which keep us energetic and healthy. They also are needed to balance out the high carbohydrate intake that soccer players need after a day of practice. Remember, high-carb low-fat diets have been shown to increase heart disease, so make sure you are getting a good amount of your calories from the healthy fats you can stay healthy, keep your HDL high and have the energy and drive to reach your potential.
Have any questions about fats? Ask them below in the comments.
Thanks for reading! Until next time,
Head Trainer at Optimal Soccer.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the OS community. If you enjoy the information here, please share it and/or comment below. I love engaging in discussion and answering questions in any aspects related to the game we all love. The more we develop a community of players, coaches and performance specialists helping each other out, the more we all gain. Thanks again!