Many health-conscious, active people have a tricky relationship with fat. They either try to eliminate it entirely, or think that working out earns them the right to eat more of it. But neither extreme will give you a body that looks and works the way you want it to.
What people really need is enough of the right kind of fat.
Why Some Fats Are Healthy
This much-maligned nutrient has an important job (in addition to making cream puffs taste good). Certain substances in fats provide essential fatty acids (EFAs)—compounds your body doesn't make on its own but that are required in order to be healthy.
"You need these for the health of your cells, eyes and skin, and for monitoring your cholesterol levels," says Alicia Kendig, sports dietician for the United States Olympic Committee. Yes, healthy fats can boost healthy HDL cholesterol.
EFAs come standard with the two healthiest fats: Poly- and monounsaturated fats. When dietary guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat, it's these two types of healthy fat they're talking about.
Monounsaturated fats are abundant in avocados, nuts, and plant-based oils such as olive, canola and peanut. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in sunflower, corn and soybean oils.
Why All the Fuss About Omega-3?
What about the current darling of healthy fats, omega-3s?
Bursting from fatty fish and synthesized by your body from foods containing alpha linolenic acid--including ground flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds—omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that have lately gained superfood status, thanks to their long list of virtues.
Omega-3 fats not only help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, but they're also credited with helping lower your risk of arthritis and even cancer. Get too few of them, and you may also have a higher risk of depression, fatigue and poor memory.
While some hopeful studies found that omega-3s showed reduced markers for inflammation, that hasn't translated into faster recovery times after hard workouts or better athletic performance.
So the omega-3 recommendations for athletes are the same as for the general public. In other words, include them as part of your 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat because they help keep you healthy and feeling younger longer.