Western Dairy-01This month’s Western Dairy Association sponsored health information is a discussion about a health topic that not everybody wants to talk about… fat.

Protein is the main nutrient on an athlete’s mind these days, but what about fat, which is part of the big three nutrients (Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats) that help you perform? All of these nutrients are important to an athletes’ performance, but many athletes are confused about fats in the diet.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines discusses healthy eating patterns, which include fats. Let’s explore the types of fats:

Saturated Fats Found in red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy
Trans fats Found in foods from oils that have been partially hydrogenated
Monounsaturated Fats Found in olive, peanut, canola, sesame and safflower oils
Polyunsaturated Fats Found in soy bean, corn and sunflower oils. Also in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout
Omega 3 fatty acids Found in fatty fish, flax seed oil (cold pressed), salmon, chia seeds, walnuts
Omega 6 fatty acids Found in poultry, eggs, avocado, nuts, cereals, vegetable oils

While saturated fat has been labelled the “bad” fat, emerging research shows that not all saturated fats are bad. Milk fat is classified as a saturated fat, but recent research suggests that the fat in milk is part of a complex food matrix that may not elevate blood cholesterol or increase risk for disease. That is good news for whole milk lovers! It may be that the fat in 2% milk, whole milk or cheese isn’t as bad as we once thought.

Fats are used for many things within an athlete’s body; fat acts as a source of calories and energy. Fat provides the main fuel in long duration activities, but also plays a role in high intensity activities, during which fat is utilized to help access stored carbohydrate (glycogen). Not only is fat beneficial for athletes, but for everyone trying to follow a healthy eating pattern.

Fat plays a role not only in the food we consume but also in many aspects of our development. Fat is part of the three major components in food, but it also serves to provide flavor and aids in satiety (how full you feel after a meal). As we grow, fat helps the brain and nervous system to develop correctly, it supports cell growth, protects our nerves, cushions our organs, keeps the body warm and provides energy. If that isn’t enough, fat also plays a role in helping the body to absorb certain nutrients, such as Vitamin A, D, E and K and it is the building block of hormones needed for body function.

Fat is a very important nutrient for our bodies, unfortunately it has been given a bad reputation. When choosing foods, balance is the key. Make sure you eat a variety of different foods using My Plate recommendations.

Keep the idea of healthy meal pattern in mind; instead of focusing on a single food as “good” or “bad,” aim for balance in all of your meals for a healthier you and a better fueled athlete. For now, stick with the current Dietary Guidelines recommendations by choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. If you choose to drink 2% or whole milk, be sure to balance calories and fat elsewhere within your overall eating style.

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*All information associated with the Western Dairy Association “Nutriton Corner” is sponsored by Western Dairy Association as a partnership with University of Denver Athletics & Recreation, and not provided by trainers or staff of the Coors Fitness Center.