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.
Most people have been trained to choose low-fat foods over high-fat foods. Fat has always been positioned as a dietary enemy, so it’s no wonder it can get totally confusing when doctors and dietitians sing the praises of what they call healthy fats. You probably know that avocado is one of them, and that this nutrition revelation is responsible for their rise from guac staple to Instagram stardom in recent years. And of course there’s olive oil, the lynchpin of the Mediterranean Diet. But there are plenty more healthy, high-fat foods you should definitely be working into your meals and snacks on a regular basis. Here’s what you ought to know.
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.
SOURCES: WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Expert Column:"The Skinny on Fats." WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Feature: "Trans Fat Free Food: What's the Truth?" Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University. Robert Eckel, MD, past president, American Heart Association. Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, nutrition and physical activity director, American Cancer Society.
Polyunsaturated fats can also be healthy. The two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fats our bodies need for brain function and cell growth. Omega-3s are beneficial for every aspect of heart health, and are mostly found in fish and algae, nuts, and seeds. “Other polyunsaturated fats, [omega-6s], can be found in certain plant-based oils,” Hunnes adds. “They’re not particularly harmful, but not necessarily beneficial the way omega-3s and monounsaturated fats are.” Omega-6s work alongside omega-3s to lower LDL cholesterol, but research suggests that eating more omega-6 than -3 may contribute to inflammation and weight gain, so the key is to make sure your omega-3 intake is always higher.
Studies have found that avocados can lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol, boost anti-inflammatory properties, and improve vascular health. It’s very simple to add avocados to just about any salad. “Simply think portion control when integrating it into a weight-loss plan,” says Warren. If you’re concerned about how much fat you’re consuming or simply don’t prefer avocado on its own, try whipping up an avocado-based dressing. Toss an avocado, some Greek yogurt, and seasonings (we like fresh cilantro and parsley) into a blender and enjoy.
Two recent studies completely debunked the arguments for a low-fat, high-carb diet. In an August 2017 study published in the Lancet, scientists concluded “a high carbohydrate intake was associated with an adverse impact on total mortality, whereas fats including saturated and unsaturated fatty acids were associated with lower risk of total mortality and stroke. We did not observe any detrimental effect of fat intakes on cardiovascular disease events” (3).
One medium avocado has approximately 23 grams of fat, but it is primarily monounsaturated fat. Plus, a medium avocado contains 40 percent of your daily fiber needs, is naturally sodium- and cholesterol-free, and is a good source of lutein, an antioxidant that may protect your vision. Try enjoying it in place of foods that are higher in less-healthy saturated fat—use 1/5 of a medium avocado to replace the mayo on your sandwich, the butter on your toast, or the sour cream on your baked potato. Keep in mind that they’re pretty high in calories, so you generally want to stick to no more than 1/4 an avocado at a time.
In other parts of the world, fat has always been welcome at the table. In the U.S., though, we’re only now realizing the truth: not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need fat — more specifically, they need healthy fats. And as high-fat diets like the ketogenic diet continue to gain widespread popularity, more and more people are eager to know what fats qualify as healthy.
All digestion first takes place in the mouth from chewing and saliva beginning to break down food. After you eat a fat-containing food, such as almonds, you first break down the food in your mouth. Next, it goes to your stomach where those solid pieces of almond are further broken down via stomach acid (2). Fats actually hang out in the stomach for quite a bit which is one reason for why fat keeps you feeling fuller longer. Depending on the volume of food and components of food, healthy fats may keep you feeling full for hours.
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!
Along with nuts, seeds get high marks as healthy fats to improve good cholesterol. And flaxseeds are especially popular among nutritionists because of their versatility in a heart-healthy diet. “Sprinkle flaxseeds onto whatever you like,” says Haisley. “My favorite is with Greek yogurt or on my oatmeal. It is a great addition to salads or whisked into your favorite homemade salad dressing. You can even bake with it, too; try using 3 tablespoons of flaxseed in place of 1 tablespoon of oil or margarine in your muffins.” Try these cranberry-nut mini loaves with flaxseeds.
CLA may also reduce the risk of heart disease, thanks to its high antioxidant levels and ability to lower bad cholesterol. (27) And grass-fed beef is often considered safer than grain-fed beef, as using antibiotics and hormones in grass-fed beef is much less common. Remember, you are what you eat eats, so you want to choose the best quality possible. And when it comes to beef and healthy fats, grass-fed beef is definitely the winner.
Nine moderately athletic men took either spirulina capsules or a placebo for four weeks in a study printed in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Afterward, the men who had taken spirulina supplements were able to run 30 percent longer than the men who had taken a placebo and burned 11% more fat during a run! Fueling up before your run? Check out our exclusive report, Eat This, Not That! For Runners.