The Essential Role of Body Fat in Our Health: Part 1

Amber Whittemore RD, BSN, MHSc

Welcome back to the HEC blog, where today the focus is all about body fat stores and the myriad of essential roles it plays in our health.

It is no surprise that our culture today is hyper-focused on shrinking their bodies and minimizing body fat when any Google search for weight loss or a healthy diet turns up results like:

“Dr. Oz’s Rapid Belly Melt Plan”

“20 Secrets to Lose Body Fat Everywhere”

“Keto Diet Plan to Accelerate Fat Loss”

However, despite many of the current diet culture myths and facades, minimizing our body fat in the name of health is a misleading and potentially dangerous intention. In fact, the goal of “melting” body fat and achieving low body fat stores is actually counter-intuitive to optimizing our physical health and well-being!

This is because we need body fat stores to maintain our physiological functioning as human beings. The essential body fat stores are variable for men and women, given that women require more for reproductive purposes. It is generally agreed upon that the essential, aka the minimum body fat percentage required to maintain normal physiological function is 3% for men and 13% for women1. Above this, humans thrive with some storage fat, which is used to optimize energy levels, immunity, digestion and more. Therefore, the average healthy body fat percentage for men is 15-20% and for women is 20-25%1.

The key roles that adequate body fat stores play in our health can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Energy provision and maintenance
  • Maintaining our basal metabolic rate
  • Immunity
  • Temperature regulation and cold tolerance
  • Promoting digestion
  • Promoting bone density
  • Cardiac and organ health
  • Reproductive health: fertility, menstruation, childbirth, and breastfeeding

This week, we will be spending time diving into the first half of these listed benefits; energy, metabolism, immunity, and temperature regulation. Come back next week for more information on how our fat stores serve to promote our digestion, bone density, organ, and reproductive health!