One easy rule: You should always avoid trans fats—they’re listed on the nutrition label as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Most are artificial and raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol (the good kind that helps keep blood vessels clear). According to the American Heart Association, trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Fat came under scrutiny in the 1960s when the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers to publish a review on sugar, fat, and heart disease. The sugar industry funded the research to cover up warning signs, which emerged in the 1950s, that sugar caused heart disease (1). Shifting the blame away from sugar, the researchers singled out saturated fat as the cause of heart disease.
This blue-green alga, available in powders and supplements, is full of healthy omega-3s like EPA and DHA. Research shows that these forms of omega-3s are more active in the body than ALA at controlling inflammation and belly fat. Not only is spirulina a great source of heart-healthy fats, but it’s also super-rich in protein, a great source of probiotics, and may even be able to help flatten your belly during exercise.
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.
Salmon might not get as bad of a rap for being high in fat, but its health benefits are worth repeating. By adding this fish fillet into your diet just twice a week, you’ll get the full amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the American Heart Association. Omega-3s reduce the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, and can actually slightly lower blood pressure. When you’re at the fish counter, make sure to pick up the right kind—while pink salmon is the second best fish for nutrition and health benefits, farmed Atlantic salmon is one of the worst.
What can make eggs confusing are all the options. Some people advocate eating just egg whites, which is a mistake. Egg yolks are full of nutrients and healthy fats, and to get the full benefits of eggs, you should be consuming it all. Additionally, while egg carton claims can get tricky, the rule of thumb is to opt for free-range eggs, which have been shown to be higher in healthy fats and contain more omega-3s. (24)
Fats also help us digest important fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K that keep our brains, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin, and nails healthy (1). Fat provides the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages through our body quickly via hormones. In fact, fats are vital to hormonal health. I’ve worked with many clients recovering from eating disorders or very restrictive diets who have gone years without periods due to their low body fat percentage. There’s a fine line between wanting to be “toned” and “ripped” and being a healthy woman able to provide your body with enough fat reserves for healthy hormones and hormonal production. Fat is crucial for our bodies!
Some forms of saturated fats, such as coconut oil, are comprised of medium-chain fatty acids, which are easier to metabolize than the long-chain fatty acids found in animal fats. This makes coconut oil much healthier for you. In fact, coconut oil has a whole host of other good properties, including lauric acid which is antiviral and antibacterial, and caprylic acid which is antifungal.