Lipids, fats, fats, fats, ... You have all heard about it, received information sometimes even contradictory on this subject. "Good fat is life" as we say at HolyFat. What is behind this statement, what is good fat, and why is it life? We'll break down the essential nutrient and enlighten you on its many roles and benefits to our bodies!
Holyfat is a French sports nutrition brand, with no added sugar.
First, what is a lipid?
Often called "fats", lipids are, along with carbohydrates and proteins, one of the three major groups of macronutrients in our diet. Many biological structures - cells, organelles - are delimited by membranes made up mainly of lipids. They also provide various other biological functions, including cell signaling (lipid signaling) and storage of metabolic energy by lipogenesis, energy then released in particular by β-oxidation (note that the degradation of a fatty acid generates 9kcal, compared to 4kcal for a carbohydrate or a protein).
They contribute to the energy supply and play many roles in our body, including two major ones:
A role of energy storage, in the form of triglycerides in particular in the adipose tissue
A structural role, in the form of phospholipids. They are part of the membrane composition of cells and ensure their fluidity, as explained above.
Beyond these two vital roles, their metabolic functions vary depending on their nature. They can regulate the expression of genes or be precursors of molecules regulating different physiological functions (inflammation, vasoconstriction, platelet aggregation, ...). They also facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins - vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K - and carotenoids.
Small zoom on one of the most famous lipids: cholesterol
Cholesterol is also a member of the lipid family. Despite its bad reputation, it is absolutely essential and plays a vital role in the body: it is a precursor of steroid hormones (estrogens, testosterone, etc.), and also forms the cell membranes. It can come from food but also be the result of an endogenous synthesis. Being a lipid, it is not soluble in water and must therefore be transported in the blood via lipoproteins (the famous LDL and HDL measured during a blood test, but also VLDL).
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) contains more protein than cholesterol. In a test result, it is called "good cholesterol". They are used to collect the excess cholesterol in the blood and to drag it to the liver, which will eliminate it via the bile. The more they are numerous, the better the biliary elimination will be.
LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) contains more cholesterol than protein. In a blood test, they represent the "bad cholesterol". They serve as a blood carrier for cholesterol to get it to the cells that need it.
Cholesterol itself is not dangerous, quite the contrary. However, when the ratio between HDL and LDL is no longer good, it becomes harmful, because the excess LDL is deposited on the walls of the blood vessels and leads to the formation of plaques, which reduce the blood flow and limit the irrigation of the organs. These plaques increase the risk of pathologies and cardiovascular accidents. In the diet, cholesterol is provided exclusively by animal products. In plants, molecules resembling cholesterol are present in very small quantities: phytosterols.
Lipids have a role of "good fat", but then why?
Let's talk about the lipids present in our food, an inexhaustible source of good fats, but also of less qualitative fats. Let's break it down!
The basics in biochemistry
The properties of food (nutritional and physical) will depend on their constitution in fatty acids. Fatty acids are divided into 3 classes:
- Saturated fatty acids (SFA),
- Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA),
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
This is for the biochemical distinction. From a physiological point of view, we distinguish :
- Essential fatty acids, which the body does not synthesize and which must be supplied by the diet: omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (or n-3 PUFAs), whose essential precursor is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Non-essential fatty acids, which the body is able to synthesize on its own (but which it still needs, let's not diminish their importance).
Essential fatty acids
They are made up of 2 large families:
Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (or n-6 PUFAs), whose precursor and major representative is linoleic acid (LA)
Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (or n-3 PUFAs), whose essential precursor is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It allows the synthesis of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The synthesis of omegas 3 and 6 is achieved through an enzyme, Δ6 desaturase, throughout most of our lives (except in babies and the elderly). Since both PUFAs use the same enzyme, there is duality in the body! It is thus necessary to observe a ratio ω6/ ω3 higher or equal to 5 in order to respect the balance of the contributions and to correctly meet the needs for the body.
Their roles in our body
Omega-3s play many roles in the body, sometimes antagonistic to omega-6s (hence the importance of respecting the famous ratio mentioned above). They act on our retina, our nervous system, are hypocholesterolemic (like omega 6), act in the prevention of degenerative diseases and decrease insulin resistance. For athletes, they are of particular interest for their anti-inflammatory role.
Omega 6s play a role in reproduction, in the immune function, in the epidermis (healing, maintenance of the integrity of the epidermis, cellular differentiation) and in platelet aggregation (they are anti-thrombotic). Unlike omega 3, they are pro-inflammatory.
The needs in omega 6 are filled by the food. It is therefore necessary to be vigilant about the regular consumption of omega 3 to meet our needs. Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects for health of a diet rich in ω-3 fatty acids (Mediterranean diet) from the point of view of child development, prevention of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and various psychological disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder and dementia. On the other hand, it is established that the consumption of trans fatty acids such as those present in hydrogenated vegetable oils are increased risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
And the others, the non-essential fatty acids?
Among the so-called non-essential fatty acids, therefore that the body is able to synthesize, we find oleic acid (ω9, monounsaturated fatty acid majority in our diet), and saturated fatty acids (SFA).
The saturated fatty acids are notably constituted of lauric, myristic and palmitic acids which, in excess, are atherogenic. Other SFAs, especially those with short and medium chains, do not have this effect and could even have positive effects on health.
Finally, in the era of industry and processed products, trans fatty acids have also appeared in our food (they are very little present in their natural state). Molecules whose chemical structure has been transformed to make life easier for industrialists, they have no interest for our health and should be avoided as much as possible. The European Commission has moreover decided, in April 2019, to limit trans fatty acids from April 2, 2021. The maximum allowable limit will be 2 grams of industrially produced trans fats per 100 grams of fat in food for consumption.
What are the benefits of lipids for our health, why are they so essential and where can we find them?
According to the ANSES, the recommended proportion of lipids in the energy intake of a healthy adult population is 35 to 40%. This range varies according to individuals and diets, but generally speaking, it ensures that the needs in essential and indispensable fatty acids are covered and takes into account the prevention of pathologies.
It is particularly important to focus on the quality of the fatty acids provided by the diet, rather than the quantity, because not all are equivalent. Thus, the health authorities have also recommended intakes for essential fatty acids (LA, ALA, DHA), EPA, the three saturated fatty acids that are atherogenic in excess and oleic acid. A recommendation has also been made for all saturated fatty acids, although they do not all have the same physiological effects.
Most of the fat absorbed from the diet is present as triglycerides, cholesterol and phospholipids.
Dietary sources of good fats:
- Vegetable oils: Most vegetable oils are rich in omega 6, such as sunflower oil, grape seed oil, soybean oil or corn oil. Omega 3 is found in flaxseed, rapeseed, almond and hazelnut oil. As for seeds (flax, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, etc.), they are also rich in PUFAs. Olive oil, on the other hand, is the winner in terms of omega 9, since oleic acid even takes its name from the fruit. Coconut oil, used in particular in our Holyfat pouches, is made up mainly of SFA and a little omega 6. Note that it is, in our case,MCT oil quickly assimilated and directly used as a source of energy, thus avoiding the deleterious effects of long chain SFA (see our article on Medium Chain Triglycerides).
- Oilseeds: Very low in carbohydrates, they usually contain large quantities of vitamin E, B1, B2 as well as folic acid (or vitamin B9) and fiber. It is important to know that oilseeds are privileged sources of minerals, among which are potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Omega-6 is found in soybean and sunflower oils, almonds, pecans and peanuts (also rich in omega-9). Hazelnuts or macadamia nuts are good sources of omega-9. The walnut, used in our products, is the richest oilseed in omega 3. The almond is very rich in vitamin E, which helps reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. To learn more, you can read or re-read our zoom on nuts and the almondsFor more information, you can read or reread our
- Fats and animal products: Fish oils (the famous cod liver oil!) are particularly rich in long chain ω-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. Good quantities of omega 3 are also found in eggs, butter or cream from animals raised on a diet rich in flaxseed or alfalfa for example. Concerning dairy products, we will find mostly SFAs and omega 3 in animals with fodder rich in PUFAs.
- Meat and fish: fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines) or white fish (sole, whiting, skate, etc.) are excellent sources of omega-3. They are found a little less in other seafood products (shellfish). Red meat is rich in saturated fatty acids, while poultry such as duck and goose are rich in omega 9. Animals raised on cereals and fodder rich in omega 3 (chicken, turkey) will contain a significant amount.
- Fruits and vegetables: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, watercress, lettuce, lamb's lettuce, etc.) contain interesting quantities of omega 3 which should not be neglected. Avocados are rich in omega 9. Overall, since fruits and vegetables are low in lipids, they are not the main source to be considered to meet our intake.
And for athletes: What is the interest of lipids?
For more details, you can consult the article " Is the ketogenic diet suitable for athletes? For more details, you can consult the article ", in which you will find the answer to this question and others about lipids and their interest in the context of a sports practice.
In summary, eating fat instead of carbohydrates (for example, eating a dose of Holyfat instead of a cereal bar) will prevent blood sugar levels from varying. When blood sugar levels vary, so does your form: at the height of the peak, you're on fire, you get a boost, you eat up the miles. When your blood sugar level goes down (usually after 45 minutes, for example after an effort gel), it's a slump: significant fatigue that can slow down or even put an end to your race (see also our article on hypoglycemia for more information).
When we consume lipids, the energy will be constant and lasting. Less explosive at the moment, but much longer. Also note that, as previously stated, 1 gram of fat = 9 kcal, against 4 kcal for carbohydrates or proteins. So, for the same amount ingested, we will have more than twice as much energy provided by fat than by carbohydrates or proteins, a considerable asset when we know that the digestive system is more capricious, especially during endurance efforts.
At Holyfat, we have designed a product that contains 70% lipids (almonds, walnuts, MCT oil), less than 3% of carbohydrates (naturally present in oilseeds) and 20% of proteins. A dose of 40 g provides you with an average of 280 kcal, that is to say three times more than a sweetened gel, without causing any variation of glycemia.
Note that during the first attempts, or on a very long effort, we advise you to keep a source of carbohydrates at hand and to consume it in the last hour of effort to give you a last little boost before the finish line (and recharge your glycogen reserves). Of course, all these dietary tests should be done during training, not on the day of a competition, as everyone has their own reactions and habits.
Don't hesitate to consult our other articles, in particular "How to avoid fatigue during exercise, especially during an endurance sport", as well as our focus on almonds, walnuts, MCT oil...
With the added bonus of some tips and advice for the preparation and your sports outings (or your busy days).