Just like when selecting healthy sources of fat to include in your diet over fried foods and processed junk, opting for nutrient-dense carbohydrates is key. Go for healthy, gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and oats. Include a good variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes in your diet. Limit your intake of heavily processed and refined carbs to help improve the quality of your diet.
Finally, many experts say studies on saturated fat often look at people eating it on top of an otherwise unhealthy diet—for example, alongside refined carbs, sugar, and not enough veggies and fiber—in which case it could certainly increase inflammation and heart disease risk. A reasonable portion of coconut oil on top of fibrous veggies (or grass-fed butter in a saute pan) in a low-sugar, whole foods, plant-based diet, however, comes with health benefits. My advice: think about saturated fat as part of your healthful diet but not as a main ingredient. Coconut oil is great, but it’s not kale.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote health in several ways. They reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels (8). Omega-3 fats are also essential for brain and eye health (9).
Avoiding trans fats can be tricky because food labels can be misleading. Even though trans fats have been banned by the FDA, foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving can read 0 grams of trans fat on the food label. To determine if the food contains trans fats, check the ingredient list for “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” oil. While 0.5 grams may seem small, eating several portions of foods containing some trans fat may be enough to affect your health.
Ideally, you’ll want to consume minimally-processed foods that are full of heart-healthy, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, and EPA), monounsaturated fats (OEA), and the trans fat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as well as some medium-chain saturated fats like stearic acid and lauric acid. On the other hand, stick to foods that have low levels of omega-6 fatty acids and other saturated fats (palmitic acid), and zero manmade trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil). According to the Dietary Guidelines, an easy way to do this (besides following this list) is to lessen consumption of the top sources of saturated fats like pizza, burgers, meats, and processed snacks and sweets.
Unfortunately, buying this healthy fat isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. Make sure to pick only extra virgin varieties of the oil, which means no chemicals are involved when the oil is refined. Unfortunately, many common brands have been shown to fail the standards for extra virgin olive oils, meaning it’s important to choose wisely.