We are continually bombarded with advice about how many carbs we should consume and the importance of protein, but how much fat we should consume is a question rarely asked. Is there a specific formula that answers this question? Short answer: yes. Before sharing it with you, let’s address some basic issues about how fat works.
Because the majority of people are stressed, inflamed and insulin resistant, it’s important to manage blood glucose and insulin levels. Hippocrates had it right when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This is what we will try to convey to you with this article.
Insulin is known as the hormone of aging. It is the most anabolic and inflammatory compound in the body. It promotes storage and inhibits catabolic (breaking down) processes. By keeping insulin levels low, you decrease your risk of infection and what was formerly known as age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and stroke. Low insulin levels allow your body to utilize and break down its fat stores for energy.
Insulin is the one hormone that can be 100 percent controlled by the foods you eat. Carbohydrates create the biggest rise in insulin secretion, followed by protein while fat does not cause insulin secretion at all. While protein has a moderate impact on lowering the glycemic index of a carbohydrate, fat has the greatest impact on lowering the glycemic index. In fact, fat not only decreases the glycemic index of a meal but more importantly, it decreases the peak blood glucose levels after a meal.
Now that we know that fat decreases glycemic index and post-meal blood glucose levels, hence reducing the need for large insulin release, it would be safe to say that your diet should contain a decent amount of fat. How much is the question?
It would be easy to conclude that we should consume no carbohydrates, only fat and protein. It’s not that simple. Those who eat very low carb for extended periods have higher fasting blood glucose levels than people who eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are still the preferred fuel source in the body. Thyroid function also decreases when on a no-carb diet and, let’s face it, most people’s brain stop functioning properly when they go no carb for too long.
What blood glucose level corresponds with optimal health? Charting this gives a U-shaped graph such that high and low blood glucose levels are associated with diminished health while somewhere in the middle you get optimal health.
What does this all mean regarding what you should eat? Many leading experts in this field recommend starting with a diet consisting of 50 percent of calories coming from fat, 20 percent from carbohydrates and 30 percent from protein. Taking to account that most people are now insulin resistant, overly stressed and inflamed, this is a safe place to start. As the body starts to heal, then the percentages can be tweaked until you find what works best for you.
Here is an example with a 5’4” 35-year-old female who exercises intensely 3-4 times per week for 60 minutes. Using the Harris Benedict Equation to find her caloric needs, we find that she needs approximately 2150 kcal per day. Using the percentages presented above, this means she needs to consume 160 grams of protein, 107 grams of carbohydrates and 119 grams of fat per day.
Remember, this is going to be the best starting place for most people. Do this for 3-4 weeks then assess: What are my energy levels like? Am I losing fat? Am I sleeping better? Am I less bloated? Has my water retention come down?
If everything is good, keep going. You’re on the right track. If not, then try either reducing the carbs increasing the fat or increasing the carbs reducing the fat. Don’t worry; it might take some fine-tuning — that’s normal. We are all unique individuals who don’t fit into one model.