There are two basic kinds of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are considered “healthy fats” include both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These types of fats are typically found in vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature, fatty fish, (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), and nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3’s that are the building blocks of cell membranes I mentioned earlier. Omega-3’s also give your body energy and help support your hormones and immune system (3).
An easier way to get all the fatty goodness of nuts may be from a nut or seed butter. Try almond and cashew, or sunflower seed butter, for a plant-based dose of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. All you need is 2 tablespoons—spread it on toast, or eat it with fresh apple slices. Choose all-natural nut butters with as few ingredients as possible.
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.
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!
Additionally, a higher consumption of eggs can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including factors like excess body fat, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. Having any of these conditions makes you more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. A 2016 study found that adults over 40 years old who regularly ate eggs significantly reduced their risk of metabolic syndrome. (10)
The reality is, not all fats are created equal. Some are downright bad (like trans fats in margarines), some are misunderstood (like the saturated fat, lauric acid), and some fats are health heroes (like omega-3s). And, don’t get us wrong, eating foods that are packed with the wrong kinds of fat will make you fat, but with all the omegas, and monos, and polys out there, it can be kind of confusing which are which. To make things easier for you, we here at Eat This, Not That! found the best foods with good fats that you can add to your diet. But before you go off on a high-fat binge, remember that—like all food—even these healthy fats should be consumed in moderation.
These fats are found in foods like sunflower oil, soybean oil and some nuts and seeds, and include the essential omega fatty acids. Although these fall into the “healthy fats” category, they should still be limited in the diet, especially when weight loss is the goal of your healthy eating plan, due to the high number of calories these fats represent. The average person should aim to cap total daily fat consumption to 20 to 35 percent of daily calories.
Several studies explore and show the this type of saturated fat in coconut does not negatively affect cholesterol levels nor overall heart health like we were once told. Some studies have shown coconut oil moderately increases metabolic rate, which is often a “selling” point that it helps boost your metabolism and contribute to fat loss or weight control. I’ll let these studies here, here, and here tell you what we do know.
As SELF has previously reported, research is starting to suggest that consuming full-fat dairy products over low-fat or fat-free ones may have weight-control benefits. It may even help reduce type 2 diabetes risk. One cup (8 ounces) of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat with 5 grams saturated fat versus skim milk, which contains none of either. Other proponents of keeping the fat in dairy products point out that you need fat to absorb the vitamin A and D in the milk, since they are fat-soluble vitamins.
Fatty, oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease and high cholesterol. “Salmon, tuna, trout, and Atlantic or Pacific mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Darlene Zimmerman, RD, a dietitian at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Grilled, baked, or broiled, include fish in your heart-healthy diet at least twice a week for a total of 8 ounces, she suggests. Try this great recipe for grilled rosemary salmon.
Food manufacturers flooded the market with processed foods containing hydrogenated fats and processed sugar. The replacement of saturated fats in the diet with trans fats and sugar resulted in epidemic rates of obesity and its related health complications (2). Rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer have risen since Americans adopted the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
But as you know, not all fats are created equal. Saturated and trans fats are the worst kind, as both increase the amount of bad cholesterol that enters the blood system. Bad fats also lead to inflammation, which can cause numerous debilitating diseases. All of the burgers, French fries, pizza and other greasy junk foods are loaded with these bad fats that can harm your body.
Consuming high levels of calories – regardless of the source – can lead to weight gain or being overweight. Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fats can also lead to heart disease and stroke. Health experts generally recommend replacing saturated fats and trans fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – while still maintaining a nutritionally-adequate diet.
When comparing saturated vs. unsaturated fat, it’s generally recommended that unsaturated fatty acids should make up the majority of your fat intake. One study in 2015 showed that replacing just 5 percent of calories from saturated fats with an equal amount from polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids resulted in a 25 percent and 15 percent reduced risk of heart disease, respectively. (6) However, both offer a unique set of benefits and can be included in moderation as part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.
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.
Cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, and it helps slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, leading to consistent energy levels and improved brain function. It may also help lower your risk of diabetes: people who eat a lot of high-fat dairy products actually have the lowest incidence of diabetes, according to a 2015 study of 26,930 people in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those who ate a lot of low-fat dairy products had the highest incidence. The researchers speculated that while calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients in cheese are indeed good for us, we need the fat that goes along with them in order to get their protective effects. Just make sure it’s real, full-fat cheese and not wood chips.
What these studies highlight is that when cutting down on saturated fats in your diet, it’s important to replace them with the right foods. For example, swapping animal fats for vegetable oils—such as replacing butter with olive oil—can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for disease. However, swapping animal fats for refined carbohydrates-such as replacing your breakfast bacon with a bagel or pastry-won’t have the same benefits. That’s because eating refined carbohydrates or sugary foods can have a similar negative effect on your cholesterol levels, your risk for heart disease, and your weight.
And if you're thinking fish-oil capsules will help you avoid the contamination risks of fresh fish, think again. Because supplements are not regulated in the U.S., Sandon says, some may contain concentrated amounts of the same toxins found in fresh fish. And because the oil is so concentrated, the supplements can also produce an unpleasant body odor.
Investigators looked at the relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their controversial conclusion: “There is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD.”(13)
There are actually three different types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The preferred sources of omega-3s are DHA and EPA, the kinds found in seafood sources like nutritious salmon and sardines. (19) ALA, on the other hand, is found in many plant foods, including nuts and seeds and certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts.
When in the correct balance with omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats are healing fats. Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. There are healthy and unhealthy sources of omega-6 fats. Healthy sources include sunflower seeds, wheat germ, sesame seeds, and walnuts. When eaten in the ideal ratio with omega-3 fats (between 4:1 and 1:1), these omega-6 fats promote health.
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In Grain Brain Dr. David Perlmutter describes our ancestor’s diet as being 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs compared to our current diet of 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% fat. Dr. Perlmutter goes on to explain how the cornerstone of many of today’s health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, ADHD, depression, anxiety and chronic headaches are linked to inflammation in the body and brain triggered by carbs.
One cup of black olives has 15 grams of fat, but again, it is mainly monounsaturated. Plus, no matter what variety of olive you enjoy, they all contain many other beneficial nutrients as well, such as hydroxytyrosol, a phytonutrient that has long been linked to cancer prevention. New research is showing that this phytonutrient may play a role in reducing bone loss as well. And if you have allergies or other inflammatory conditions, olives might be just the snack for you as research suggests that olive extracts function as anti-histamines on the cellular level. Even with all these benefits, it is important to be mindful of your serving size as olives can be high in sodium. Stick to 5 large or 10 small olives as the perfect portion.