Podcast #11 – Meet Your Macros: Fat

We are finishing up our series of casts to cover in a little more detail the three major macro-nutrients that you should be paying attention to. We’ve covered protein and carbs, now it’s time for fat.

For more detailed info on fats, check out Gavin’s Dietary Dossier:

Fats: The Old Villain

And chef Matt’s write up on cooking oils:

On the Subject of Fats



On the Subject of Fats: Cooking Oils

By: Matthew McKenzie

Alright, so here’s the short version, guys (if you can believe it, this wall of text really is a VERY truncated version). There are dozens and dozens of cooking oils out there, and entire wall of them at every grocery store. So which oil is the good-for-you oil? None of them. Not a single one. Now, don’t take me wrong here; I’m not saying “never use oil because it’s bad for you.” What I’m saying is that despite what broscience, pinterest or your yoga teacher have to say on the subject, there is no such thing as an oil that could be unironically classified as a health food.

All cooking oils are simply refined fats. They’ve had all of the fiber and most of the nutrients removed, resulting in a pure oil that’s about as calorically dense as it’s currently possible to make a food. +/- a calorie or two, all common cooking oils have 120 calories per Tbsp. So let’s assume you are very careful and only add 1 Tbsp. of oil to your food when you cook it. What’s happened is that you’ve added 120 calories to your intake, but nothing else. You haven’t added any fiber, minerals or vitamins. Has the addition of those 120 calories put any more bulk in your stomach or somehow increased your satiety (the amount of time you feel full after eating)? Nope. In short, you gain nothing from oil except for extra calories.

“But I heard that [oil X] has [fringe benefit]!”
Yeah. Here’s the thing about that. The US government recognizes 4 classifications of health food claim. A grade A claim is what we’d love all health claims to be, proven science that the vast majority of the scientific community agrees on as fact. After that, though, the graded claims get less proven. Grades B-D range from there being evidence to suggest that the health claim is true, but proper testing is currently incomplete all the way down to “we ran simulation after simulation ten thousand times and selected the one time that our desired result came up to present as evidence that it’s not outside the realm of physical possibility that our health claim is true.” I’m not exaggerating.

The reason I bring this up is because while the health claims themselves are graded based on having met a certain burden of proof, there is currently no mechanism in place to inform the consumer as to what level their health claim is. That means that on product packaging, there’s no difference between a grade A claim and a grade D claim; they’re all presented to you as fact. A really good and relevant example of this is the “good fats” claim that mono-unsaturated fats are heart-healthy and reduce your chance of heart disease. The average consumer reads “a heart-healthy fat” and “can help reduce heart disease” on the packaging and decides that this is a health food. “I’m doing something good for myself. This stuff’s good for my heart, so I can eat two bags of this instead of one.” But the problem is that while there’s evidence to back up the claim made on the packaging, it’s presented in a manner that’s extremely misleading. Mono-unsaturated fats do very little to help reduce heart disease. But saturated fats contribute a lot towards heart disease, so the studies have shown that a diet that makes use of mono-unsaturated fat *IN PLACE OF SATURATED AND TRANS FATS* can help reduce your chances of heart disease. See how that works?

Never believe anything printed on the front of the packaging. Assume everything that’s not in the ingredient list or the nutritional information block is lies, because the overwhelming likelihood is that it is, or that it’s heavily misleading at best.

The reason I mention all of that is because if you’ve heard some health claim about a type of oil, it’s very likely a grade D claim at best. We all assume olive oil is a health food. Why? Because it has a lower percentage of saturated fat than unsaturated. But it’s still 100% fat, 120 calories for no measurable positive benefit. Is it a health*IER* choice of fat than, say, palm oil? Yes it is, assuming you’re trying to avoid saturated fat. Does that make it a health food? No, it does not.

As I close this up, I think coconut oil deserves special mention because it’s so remarkably popular these days. All the hype that surrounds coconut oil these days? It was the same with olive oil 15 years ago. And vegetable shortening before that. If you can believe it, coconut oil has the highest percentage of saturated fat of any oil you’re gonna find on the shelf. A whopping 90% of it is saturated fat. The broscience experts will point out that is has medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acid, which taken together help offset the percentage of saturated fat. And to a point (a much lower point than they likely believe), this is true. But even taking that into consideration and ignoring a reasonable portion of the saturated fat because it evens out with the potential benefits, coconut oil still has a higher percentage of saturated fat than lard. LARD! To say that coconut oil is good for you because it has these beneficial compounds while ignoring the hefty amount of saturated fat it contains is a little bit like saying that the application of fire is good for your skin because it removes harmful bacteria (a good example of a grade D claim, actually).

So many people out there seem to be looking for some magic bullet in the foods they eat, most especially in fats. Honestly, in my estimation we all ought to stop looking for that magical version of a thing that’s somehow healthier than normal and just eat right and in moderation to begin with. Even if coconut oil worked as advertised, it’s still refined fat, which as I mentioned above, always has a calorie content right at 120 calories per Tbsp. and a shitload of saturated fat. It’s fine to cherry pick your oil based on what ratio of fat type you think is best for your particular goal (hint: it’s almost always canola/rapeseed oil), but at the end of the day, it’s still 120 kcal/Tbsp that adds only those calories and adds no fiber, no satiety and no extra mass to your food. Coconut oil is just the latest in the horrible “superfood” craze. It is not a health food. In the grand scheme of things, it rarely matters as much whether you choose olive oil or peanut oil as it does that you add minimal oil to your food.

The point I’m making is not that oil is going to kill us all or that it’s poison and should be avoided at all costs. I work for Whole Foods, I hear that shit day in and day out from some of our less-stable customers. What I’m trying to get across here is that you should never allow yourself to think of oil as a health food in any way. Just like everything else, there are health*IER* choices in oil, depending on your particular goals, but in a perfect world, you’ll ignore all the claims about this oil having omega-3 and that oil being better for your heart and base your choice of oil on flavor and its breakdown of saturated to unsaturated fat based on your particular goals, always keeping in mind the fact that at the end of the day, oil is oil and should never be confused for a healthy food.

-Chart stolen shamelessly from http://www.nutristrategy.com:


Podcast Primer #1: The Good, Bad and Ugly of My Weightloss Journey

I F*cked Up So You Don’t Have To

By Andrew Crickmore

That’s been my mantra for a long time; at the very least since I started posting in Imgurfit.  It’s also the sub-title for our first podcast.  A lot of what I say in this post pertains, in part, to the stories told n there, so please give it a whirl.

At the end of 2011, I went through a bit of a life crisis; I was a fat, miserable and soon-to-be-divorced 25 year old that felt like I had no control over a lot of what was going on in my life.  After a brief grief period of self-loathing, I decided to take a measure of control back.  I pledged to not be fat anymore.

11 months and 109 lbs. later a thin (in hindsight, too thin) me emerged my self-inflicted trial by fire having learned a lot about how incredibly little I understood about weight loss and nutrition and a better appreciation for why people have such a hard time losing weight (and keeping it off).

So, let’s run through the not-chronological order of things I learned from my own stupidity

The Good

As much as I have painted a very awful picture of my weight loss journey, the ultimate good news is I’ve kept the weight off since 2012 and reversed all the nasty, self-inflicted damage I foisted upon myself.  So, there’s that at least.  In addition of course, I did do some good (and critical) things during my fat to fit process that has stuck with me and probably helped lead me to my ultimate success:

  1. Started using MyFitnessPal immediately and tracking calorie intake, along with weighing and measuring food for over a year to reset my base understanding of servings
  2. Went to the gym and tried, in theory, to have a balanced workout plan
  3. Never stopped reading and learning, even when the things I was reading ended up being wrong.

MyFitnessPal was (and still is) an essential tool in my tool box.  Learning how to properly track and measure portions was likely the number one reason I succeeded in my weight loss, even as I started eating some ridiculously low calorie intakes.  I measured and weighed food portion religiously and managed to hit my aggressive calorie targets 90% of the time.  It was so important to my success I still use it; I’m up to a streak of 1350 days straight (and counting).

After I started tracking my calories, I drove over to the community centre gym I knew I had a dormant gym membership at and reactivated it.  At first I just did machine circuits, but that evolved into an upper body/lower body rotational split as I was afraid of not working out all my muscles.  As much as whatever half-assed program I concocted that was, it was born from the first real attempts to learn something substantial about weight lifting and, coincidentally ties well into my third and final takeaway…

Last, but not least, I delved deeply into blogs, articles, books, videos and whatever else I could dig up for answers on pertinent questions about what I should and should not be doing.  Ideally I’d have done this BEFORE doing any substantial weight loss and exercise, but I seriously doubt I’m unique in my endeavour to throw myself into the gauntlet without even a helmet to protect me.

The Bad

It’s hard to imagine a time when I was so utterly clueless about weight loss and fitness that these things happened, but they did.  A lot of what I characterize as “the bad” in this article are the sorts of things that it seems nearly everyone is guilty of:

  1. I was way too aggressive with my weight loss, despite some early and seemingly reasonable goals
  2. I bought into the idea of working myself ‘to death’ was the best way to gain results
  3. the Numbers mattered more than anything else, including, in the end, my health.

Patience.  Patience.  Patience.  It’s all I preach now to people now who ask about weight loss and fitness results.  It’s typically my best quality, but it never was when I started losing weight.  Initially I set what SEEMED like pretty realistic goals; 35 lbs. lost between December 2011 and April 2012 initially.  This was after I’d lost a few pounds just cutting out pop and junk food, so I felt pretty good about how things were going.  Problem was, was that I started to lose weight VERY quickly.  At one point I was losing about 2-3 lbs. every 3-4 days (at least according to the scale).  Seeing that sort of initial loss was addictive.  So, I crushed that first goal by a good 10 lbs., then took it even further.

In my self-inflicted race to the bottom, I started going to the gym longer and longer.  2-3 hours was common, most of it doing half and half cardio and weights, 6 days a week.  I chased calories burned, I chased weight loss, and eventually I even started doing outdoor running in addition to all of that.  Hell, I even worked myself up to a solid 6 mile distance at my peak because the more I could burn, the better. At the same time, I was continuing to maintain a -1000 calorie deficit (or thereabouts, I was solely dependent on MFP’s calorie reduction system and never adjusted it, not even when I felt like hell).

All of this inflicted on myself because I couldn’t wait.  It was a weird experience for someone who typically is patient to a fault.  These points weren’t even the worst things I experienced, however…

The Ugly

What categorizes ‘The Ugly’ for me was the stuff that bordered on sadistic and eating disorder issues.  This is the sort of stuff that probably made me lose the most muscle mass, feel the absolute worst as my weight loss journey stretched into a year, and caused the most issues for me in struggling with my post-dieting existence.

  1. I had absolutely no idea what TDEE and BMR were, and paid for it
  2. When I got down to sub-200 lbs., my calorie deficit was so bad I felt like I had a black hole in my gut, yet I ignored it.
  3. I tried all sorts of stupid things, which included cutting out nearly all my protein intake at one point.
  4. At my lowest, I’d binge on frozen yogurt and low-fat peanut butter and feel miserably guilty about it after

TDEE and BMR used to be foreign concepts to me.  I understood calories in vs. calories out, and I understood calorie deficits, but I never really understood anything about TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) until I’d already fucked myself over.  All I knew was what MFP told me to eat, and as much as I enjoy using MyFitnessPal, they really need to change their algorithm.  At my lowest I was trying to subsist on only 1470 calories.  Keep in mind my BMR is around 1900 calories, so I was eating a brisk -500 calorie deficit on my bare minimum required calories.

This ridiculous calorie deficit really started to be a problem when I hit the sub-200 calorie mark.  For people who don’t know, if you lose 10 lbs. MFP will ask you if you want to adjust your calorie intake down by 100 calories per day.  That SEEMS reasonable, except it caps at 1200 calories, which is ridiculously low calories for ANYBODY.  As a result, I started to feel physically and mentally shittier.  Physically, I’d be weak, have difficulty sleeping, and even got jitters at some point.  Mentally was worse.  Food dogged me constantly.  I was making bargains with myself over the food I was eating and calculating how much cardio I needed to do to counter it.

I distinctly remember nights where I would stare into a jar of peanut butter and bargain with myself as to whether I would eat any more of it.   These staring contests would last anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour.  Usually I caved and would start shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter into my mouth in some involuntary attempt to make up for the massive amount of lost calories I’d subjected myself to.  The most I’d ever eaten during one of these binge stages was an entire kilo of peanut butter, ending the destruction by scraping the bottom with my finger.  It’s amazing that I can still eat peanut butter at all honestly.  Peanut butter was the main trigger food for this, but I did it for other foods too.  Mostly sugary things mocking me from my freezer or workplace break room table.

Other stupid shit I did?  For one, I went vegetarian for a week.  Problem with that was I basically just cut out all my protein intake.  I cannot describe to you what soreness without protein intake is like when you insist on working out anyways.  I did similarly miserable things with carbs and fats, all with equally dismal results.  I beat salads to death, weird curry dishes to death, cheat days to death, spicy foods to death…really, I tried every coping mechanism I could to trick myself into eating less calories or feeling “full” on less calories.  The slop I’d eat just to minimize my calorie intake was as ridiculous as it was intense.

What the Hell Should I Learn From All This?

First and foremost, Despite my fuckups I’ve managed to keep the weight off going on 4 years (as of October 2015).  This in itself is a huge accomplishment.  That doesn’t mean any sane person should try what I did, yet my experience isn’t exactly an outlier.  plenty of people on imgurfit and elsewhere continue to subject themselves to well-meaning but extremely poor choices.

So, if you skipped all the way down to the bottom of this post for some reason, here’s what you should do;

  1. Develop or practice patience.  Slow and steady is better than aggressive and fast when it comes to weight loss
  2. Don’t try stupid shit.  Calculate your calories, eat enough food and at the right macronutrient ratios.
  3. Eat for your level of activity.  If you run and lift and do all sorts of other things, eat lots of food.  You’ll still probably lose weight.
  4. Develop a healthy relationship with food. even when trying to cut calories.  Don’t degrade your mental and physical health to the point where you’re binge-eating regularly to compensate for your poor health.
  5. Keep reading, keep learning, and become nutritionally and physically literate.
  6. Track your god damn calories and macros.

Thanks for Reading, and Keep an eye out for future Podcast Primer Posts pertaining to the things we’ve discussed.


Fats: The Old Villain

By: Gavin Hemmerlein

Last week we touched on Carbohydrates and how they have now had an undeserved witch hunt for decades. That’s the old story for the ol’ lipids. Now this one has a lot of different info in it to cram into one place. This is due to fats being so complex, so I apologize for some “light” info. If any other details are needed, just ask!

When looking at fats or lipids you have many different categories. There are Triglycerides (unsaturated and saturated fats), Sterols (cholesterol is the most common but there are also phytosterols), and Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). For EFAs, think of the Omegas (omega 3 or n-3s and omega 6 or n-6s).

With respect to saturated and unsaturated fats, we often associate saturated as unhealthy and unsaturated as ideal. This does not always hold true and as always the devil is in the details. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have shown remarkable health benefits in many studies. They are easily absorbed and have even been included for some disease treatments (Waldmann’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s to name a few). For a 2000 cal diet, the RDI is 20 g of Saturated fatty acids with 65 g total intake. Just pay attention to not overdue these substances.

Cholesterol is a hot topic for certain. The RDI for Cholesterol is at 300 mg for a 2000 cal intake. Personally I feel this is kind of an antiquated reference. The idea that dietary cholesterol adds to serum (bloodstream) cholesterol is simply not there. There are loose links in clinicals, but nothing of substance. For this reason, I normally recommend people to not overdo it, but if you want to have eggs, go right ahead and eat the yoke. Try and mix up your fat sources, but don’t run away afraid of some scarecrow.

EFAs produce prostaglandins, which regulate functions like heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility and conception, and inflammation. It also encourages the body to fight infection. Avoiding EFAs can lead to a number of issues including growth retardation, skin lesions, visual problems, kidney and liver diseases, reproductive failure, chronic intestinal disease, and even depression. These are essential to healthy living. You can get these from a few sources, but I like to recommend fatty fish like salmon for this micronutrient.

There are three types of Omega-3’s that we can consume. There is alphalinoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These three are known for their incredible anti-inflammatory properties. ALA is an essential acid that can be derived into both EPA and DHA, but the reverse does not hold true. Due to this, I recommend a diet high in EPA and DHA for your intake. ALA can be obtained through Flaxseeds and EPA/DHA can be consumed from fish oils.

The reason that fats have received their terrible name is the amount of calories in each gram. It is undeniable that nine kilocalories in each gram can add up quickly. That is undebatable, but what is debatable is that there are necessities for lipids in a performance diet. Don’t run away afraid of the boogeyman. Embrace him and show how you’re willing to embrace the upgrades to your performance. Go on. Get your goal.

– Gavin