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Basic Nutrition Part 2

In part one of this pair of articles, we told you all about protein and carbohydrates. This article delves a little deeper into nutrition…


Probably the most contentious subject in nutrition, fats are often maligned and misunderstood. Fat is used as energy when we are exercising at low levels of intensity (i.e. aerobically) and is also vital to our health. Fats come in 4 varieties and this is where the problem with fat lies – some types of fat are, as previously mentioned, vital to our health whilst others are very detrimental. Labelling all fats as bad is a mistake!

Saturated fat is generally found in animal products, like all fats, contains 9 calories per gram so it’s very calorie dense. The body likes to use saturated fats for energy and energy storage. If you have fat around your stomach – that’s saturated fat! The main problem with saturated fat is that if consumed to excess it can make you gain weight and being overweight has many associated health risks. Being fat is actually more of a health risk than actual saturated fat consumption.

Unsaturated fats are always liquid at room temperature and come from vegetables and nuts. These fats are very healthy and are associated with improved cardiovascular and brain health. Unsaturated fats come in 2 forms – mono unsaturated (e.g. olive oil) and polyunsaturated (e.g. fish oil) and both have a variety of health benefits. Unsaturated fats are very reactive and don’t respond will to heat, light or air and especially in the case of polyunsaturated fats should not be exposed to high heats as this can damage them and make them less healthy.

Finally, trans fats are considered the “bad-boys” of the fat family and are best avoided altogether. Trans fats block healthy mono and poly unsaturated fats from doing their job and are thought to be the main cause of a variety of diseases such as CHD and hypertension. Trans fats occur in small amounts in nature but by far and away the greatest source of dietary trans fat is processed foods. When a mono or polyunsaturated oil is heated excessively or processed, trans fats are often the result. Foods like many margarines, pre-packaged meals, pies, takeaways and junk food often contain large amounts of trans fats and are best avoided.











Vitamins and minerals

The food we eat should provide us with more than just energy. Although they contain no energy themselves, vitamins and minerals are the spark plugs that cause the health giving chemical reactions in our bodies to occur. The general definition of a vitamin or mineral is “a substance that, if missing from the diet, may result in ill health.” Vitamins and minerals power virtually every reaction that occurs in our bodies…vitamin C keeps our immune system working properly, vitamin B helps with the breakdown of carbohydrate for energy, vitamin D is essential for bone health, as is the mineral calcium. Zinc keeps our hormonal system working properly, iodine helps regular thyroid levels and iron is needed to transport oxygen in the blood. Vitamins and minerals are best obtained by eating a wide variety of whole foods especially fruit and vegetables but, for hard training sports people, supplementing with a good quality vitamin and mineral complex may be a good idea.


Without water, none of the chemical reactions necessary for life would be able to occur. Water is the massively important to our health and well being. We use water as a medium for moving substances around our bodies, lubricating our joints and digestive system, regulating our body temperature and flushing waste out of our bodies. On average, we need 2 litres of water (about 8 tall glasses) a day but if you are a regular exerciser, you may need more than double that amount. Dehydration can cause a major drop off in performance and is best avoided if possible. Thirst is a very late indicator of being dehydrated so is best avoided by drinking plenty and often.

So now you know a little more about the food groups. Try not to obsess over what you eat, after all eating should be one of life’s pleasures, but remember that food is fuel for your training and competitions so it’s worth eating as healthily as you can.

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Fat Facts Part 3

Fish oilsPolyunsaturated fats
This type of oil (e.g. sunflower oil) has lots of missing hydrogen molecules and therefore lots of bends in its chemical chain making it very VERY reactive. These oils are so reactive that when we eat them they are used almost exclusively for reactions in our bodies and very rarely for energy. Polyunsaturated fats are usually described as “Essential Fatty Acids” or EFA for short. They are often sold as supplements and are vital for the health of our hearts, nervous systems, joints and brains – in fat pretty much the entire body will benefit from regular consumption of EFA. The reason polyunsaturated oils are considered so healthy is because of all the fats, they are the most reactive.


No sooner have we eaten them they are whizzing around our bodies doing a myriad of useful functions. However, this reactivity is a double edged sword. Polyunsaturated fats are very easily damaged by heat, light and oxygen and should NEVER be heated. Heating polyunsaturated fats creates trans fats which are the true “bad boy” of the fat gang (more about trans fats in a moment). They should be consumed raw, in their cold pressed extra virgin form only and stored in a dark glass airtight bottle. They have a life span of around 4-8 weeks so should not be stored (even correctly) for longer than this to preserve their healthful properties.

As a side note – EFA are excellent anti-inflammatories. They can reduce the pain of some arthritic conditions very effectively. Cod liver oil has long been associated with healthy joints and is a great example of polyunsaturated oils doing an essential job. Around 30 – 40 % of our daily fat intake should be made up of polyunsaturated fats.

Trans fats
These nasty little critters are responsible for pretty much everything that saturated fats are wrongly blamed for. From heart disease to clogged arteries to the weak £ and global warming - it’s not saturated fats at fault but trans fats. (Okay – maybe the last two aren’t down to trans fats but it would be handy if we could blame them on something!)

Trans fats are “bent” unsaturated fats which have been straightened out artificially which causes great confusion in our body’s cells. In chemistry shape matters. Square pegs fit into square holes, round pegs into round holes. Trans fats are treated by the body as one thing when in fact they are something completely different. They end up going places they shouldn’t and block the healthy fats from doing their job. It’s as though a square peg has been jammed into a round hole and this means other fats consumed a) can’t do their healthy job and b) are now surplus to requirements and more likely to be stored around our middles.

Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. They’re not hard to dodge if you follow these simple guidelines…

  • Don’t cook with polyunsaturated fats – use saturated fat or monounsaturated oils instead
  • Avoid overheating monounsaturated fats – they do rancid easily
  • Cut down on processed and takeaway foods – they often contain “hidden” trans fats
  • Switch back to butter from margarine – there are no trans fats in butter!
  • Avoid any food which has the word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” listed on it’s ingredients
  • Cut back on shop-bought pies and pastries – home made is best
  • Keep your oils in dark glass airtight bottles
  • Only buy extra virgin cold pressed oils.

So – to recap…never never NEVER (!!!) cook with polyunsaturated fats! Remember – saturated fats e.g. butter and lard are great for all types of cooking, monounsaturated fats e.g. olive oil are okay for short cooking times/lower temperatures but polyunsaturated fats, whilst healthy if consumed raw, are turned into trans fats at even low temperatures so don’t cook with them at all.

I hope from this you can see that not all fats are bad and that some are even very good for us so enjoy your fats (in moderation of course!) and could someone pass me the butter dish please?!

Patrick Dale

Read part 1 here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=503
Read part 2 here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=1120

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Fat Facts Part 2

olioPart 1 of this series can be found here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=503

Monounsaturated fats
This type of fat is missing some of its hydrogen molecules and has a single bend in its chemical chain. This means that, unlike saturated fat which is solid, straight and inert, monounsaturated fats are more reactive and liquid at room temperature. The body can use monounsaturated fats for energy but also for important chemical reactions in the body. They are good for our hearts, our hair and skin and our overall health.


This reactivity is good because we can use monounsaturated fats for a host of healthy processes in our bodies but this reactivity also means monounsaturated fats can “go bad” and cause us more harm than good if they are over-heated, exposed to too much light or oxygen or processed too aggressively. For example, the extraction method used when producing olive oil (the most common monounsaturated oil) can greatly affect its healthful properties. Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil is the Rolls Royce of oils. It comes from the first pressing of the olives (hence “extra virgin”) with out the application of heat (hence “cold pressed”) or solvents. This makes it very healthy. Anything other than extra virgin cold pressed olive oil will have been heated to high temperatures, had solvents used to increase oil yield and come from a second or third pressing of the olives. All these factors mean our once healthy olive oil is now no longer good for us and may, in fact, be very bad for.

To preserve the healthy characteristics of monounsaturated oils (e.g. olive oil) it is important not to over heat them (stir frying is okay, long cooking times/high temperatures however will damage the oil), stick to extra virgin cold pressed oils where possible and make sure oils are stored in an airtight dark glass container away from direct sunlight.

Olive oil is really best kept as a condiment and consumed raw but because it is only mildly reactive, it’s okay to cook with it but only for short periods/lower temperatures. Saturated fats are better suited for longer cooking times and higher temperatures as heat doesn’t affect them negatively. About 30% of our daily fat intake should be made up from monounsaturated fats.

In the last in this series, we’ll take a look at polyunsaturated fats and trans fats.

Patrick Dale

Part 1 of this series can be found here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=503
Part 3 or this series can be found here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=1126

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Fat Facts Part 1

fats-oilsFat is probably the most contentious issue in nutrition. Are they as bad for us as we are led to believe? Are they really responsible for the often poor standard of health seen in the majority of the western world? Should we embrace the “low fat lifestyle”? The problem is that there is a huge amount of freely available information around, especially compared to pre-internet times, and much of it is a) out of date, b) incorrect, c) written by people with no formal training or qualifications or d) written using such technical language that for most of us it makes no sense!

In this article, I’d like to shed some light on the seemingly complicated and controversial world of fats so that you can make informed choices about which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.

Fats are classified according to their level of hydrogen content. All this actually means is that fats that are said to be saturated are packed to the gunnels with hydrogen molecules and fats that are deemed unsaturated are missing some hydrogen molecules. The amount of hydrogen molecules present in a fat  dictates how a fat looks, tastes and when we eat it. Fat should make up around 20 – 30% of our daily food consumption. Very low fat diets are actually quite unhealthy as we need a daily dose of fat for our body’s to perform at their best. Very low fat diets are also strongly linked to skin and hair problems, low birth weight babies, lowered testosterone levels in men, reduced brain function, impaired learning ability, lowered intelligence and eye problems.

Let’s take a look at the four main classifications of dietary fats…

Saturated fats
As mentioned before, these fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules which make them very solid structures – they are often solid at room temperature e.g. butter and lard. They are chemically inert which means they don’t react much when exposed to heat, light, oxygen or chemicals. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products i.e. beef and dairy (milk, cheese, butter) as well as palm oil and coconut oil and our bodies tend to use saturated fats for energy or energy storage. (Look down at your tummy – THAT’S saturated fat!!!)

Saturated fats are considered as the “bad boys” of the fat family but really this isn’t the case. The worst thing we can say about saturated fats is they can make you fat if consumed in excess as they are very calorie dense. Being over -fat is associated with a host of negative health concerns but it’s not the consumption of saturated fats that’s the problem. Being over-fat can be caused by over consumption of carbohydrates or even protein. Eating fat can make you fat and being fat can be a health problem but let’s not shoot the messenger! Some saturated fat in the diet is not just fine but is actually essential.

The body mostly uses saturated fat for energy and if it doesn’t need the energy it will store the fat around your body for later – often in places we’d prefer to be fat free like our stomachs, legs and bums.  As mentioned  saturated fats are inert, so they don’t undergo any chemical changes when we eat them. Saturated fats don’t clog our arteries, won’t cause heart attacks and are actually vital for mineral and vitamin absorption e.g. putting butter on your Sunday roast vegetables means the veggies become even better for you! Saturated fats are ideal for cooking as they don’t turn rancid when heated (more on this later).

Speaking of saturated fats, how many of us have been told by “experts” to switch from butter to margarine to improve our health?

Speaking of saturated fats, how many of us have been told by “experts” to switch from butter to margarine to improve our health? This is a huge myth that I’d like to lay to rest right now. As we know, butter is made from cows’ milk. Very little is added so it’s safe to say that butter is a natural food. It consists mostly of saturated fat so is deemed by some as unhealthy, but look closer at the alternative – margarine. Prior to the invention of refrigerators margarine didn’t exist. It was invented solely because butter doesn’t spread when cold. Margarine is a man-made food, more chemical than natural, contains all sorts of additives, like E numbers, emulsifiers, acidity regulators, colours, artificial flavours, stabilisers etc. It’s basically a chemistry set in a plastic pot. Butter on the other hand has no artificial ingredients, contains vitamins and minerals, is rich in CLA which is an “anti cancer” super-fat and also contains something called Wulzen Factor X, which is a substance which prevents calcification of deposits in our arteries! So, in short, butter = good, margarine = bad. Even the so-called wonder-margarines that promise improvements are heart health are no better for you than good old natural butter. Do like your grandparents did and eat butter in moderation – your heart and your taste buds will thank you for it! Incidentally, some cultures revere butter and actually prescribe it as a medicinal health food. It is given to soon-to-be mothers, growing children, the elderly and the sick as a cure all. Food for thought!

Here’s a little experiment to try which will hopefully show you that butter is best…buy some margarine and some butter. Leave them both out side by side on your kitchen worktop for a few days. After a while, you’ll see the butter discolours very slightly (the outer surface oxidises) but will pretty much stay unchanged. No fungus will grow on it (butter has anti microbial properties which can enhance gut health), it won’t go off and except for maybe a few fly foot prints (!) it will be completely unchanged. The margarine however will most likely have begun to separate, discolour noticeably, have fungus and bacteria growing on it, begin to smell bad and actually go off. Don’t eat it! The butter will be quite safe for consumption but the margarine won’t do you any good at all.

In part 2, we’ll be taking a look at unsaturated fats…

Patrick Dale

Part 2 or this series can be found here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=1120
Part 3 of this series can be fund here http://www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk/?p=1126

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