When it comes to training –or even just general health, fat is just as important as any other nutrient. Carbs tend to take the focus when it comes to fuel but fat has an important role to play too. Fat is not only a source of fuel for our bodies, it also carries some of our key nutrients and vitamins.
Vitamin D and Vitamin E are two essential nutrients that are carried mainly in the fat we eat. On a very low or fat free diet, people can miss out on these vitamins. Vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb calcium and helps to maintain normal teeth and bones. Vitamin D also helps to maintain healthy muscle – an added bonus during training. Our bodies can make vitamin D when the sun shines on our skin but the lack of sunlight in Ireland can leave some of us lacking in this vitamin. Oil rich fish is a great source of vitamin D. Tuna and salmon are two very good sources and are worth including in your training plan. They have the advantage of being high in protein and B vitamins as well.
Apart from being linked to fat-soluble vitamins, fat itself is important to our bodies, especially essential fats like omega-3s. There are three main types of omega-3: ALA which is found in nuts and seeds and EPA & DHA which are found in oil-rich fish The omega-3 fats EPA & DHA help to maintain normal heart function and are important in maintaining normal brain function.
We also need a healthy balance of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil and rapeseed oil are a great choice in cooking or on salads and are an excellent source of vitamin E. It is still recommended to limit the amount of saturated fats we eat but as most of these are in eaten in foods that are also high in sugar or salt, there are lots of reasons to limit these foods. People are often concerned about the calories in fat. Fat is much higher in calories than carbs with 9 calories per gram of fat compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates. However, cutting fat out entirely is not healthy for our bodies. Runners can often cut fat to lower their body weight but it is important to include some healthy fats in the diet to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs.
The best ways to include healthy fats, and their vitamins, is to use oils like olive or rapeseed oil in cooking; add nuts & seeds to meals, and include oil-rich fish twice a week.
Consultant Nutritionist - MSc., BSc., MINDI
Sarah has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from Trinity College and a Masters in European Food Regulation.
She runs a food and nutrition consultancy giving one-to-one advice on nutrition and diet as well as working with some of Ireland's leading food companies.