We used to think that “fat” was a dirty word. But in fact, there are many healthy fats that can reduce high cholesterol, promote good cholesterol, and be a part of a heart-healthy diet. The secret is to focus on the right fats. “Good fats are monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and avocados, and there are also the polyunsaturated fats found in omega-3 fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds,” says Barbara Mendez, MS, RPh, a pharmacist and nutritional consultant in New York City. “These fats help reduce total cholesterol while raising the ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol. This protects the heart from heart disease and also helps reduce total body inflammation. Additionally, these fats nourish healthy hair, skin, nails, and bones.”
Tuna also packs a high amount of healthy fats and omega-3s. We're talking both the conveniently canned stuff and the kind you find at your favorite sushi spot. It's versatile—tuna steaks, tuna burgers, tuna salad, the options are endless—so it's pretty easy to fit into your diet. Like salmon, you should limit your intake to about 12 ounces (two meals) a week to avoid overexposure to things like mercury that can be found in small amounts in seafood.
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.
These small but mighty seeds are loaded with omega-3s, fiber, protein, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Their popularity as a superfood is well deserved—you can toss a tablespoon into your smoothies for a quick fat, fiber, and protein boost, or soak them overnight for a ready-when-you-wake-up breakfast parfait. You can even use them to add nutritional punch to your desserts.
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, adding plenty of nutritious fats to your diet is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to health. Be sure to round out your diet with plenty of protein foods as well as a good variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs, and pair a well-balanced diet with regular physical activity and a healthy lifestyle for best results.
Although fat got a lot of flak in the carb-crazy ‘90s, fat is actually very important to a healthy diet. Fat comes in two main forms: unsaturated and saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are oils — the kind that are fluid at room temperature (such as olive and canola oils). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (think a stick of butter or glob of coconut oil).
The type of fatty acids that make up coconut oil’s saturated fat content is medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and are about 65% of its fat content. Unlike long chain fatty acids (the majority of fats in our diet) which must go through modification prior to being digested and absorbed in our bodies, medium chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract to the portal system. In other words, our bodies find it super easy to break down the fat before getting rapidly absorbed and used for energy by the body. Coming from a clinical background, MCT’s are very commonly used in treating people who have malabsorption issues, are on ketogenic diets, or are increasing calories without much volume.
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.
Coconut is high in saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that battles bacteria, improves cholesterol scores, and, as a Journal of Nutrition study found, increases the 24-hour energy expenditure in humans by as much as 5 percent. And get this: A study published in Lipids found that dietary supplementation of coconut oil actually reduced abdominal fat. Sprinkle unsweetened flakes over yogurt or use coconut oil in a stir-fry to start whittling your waist. Need more reasons to get coconut in your diet? Check out these benefits of coconut oil.
Following the momentous Seven Countries Study, organizations like the American Heart Association began urging consumers to cut down on consumption of saturated fat to improve heart health despite the lack of evidence demonstrating a clear link between saturated fat and heart disease. Not only did this cause confusion for consumers about the differences between saturated versus unsaturated fat, but it also caused many people to associate overall fat intake with weight gain and heart problems.
The overarching message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. (1, 15, 22) Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.
This is probably one of the easiest ways to add a healthy dose of fat to your next salad. Seeds are extremely easy to toss in, regardless of the type of dish. Depending on the intensity of your other salad ingredients, you may not even taste some seeds. So, in some cases, they add a desired crunch into the mix. You can add a scoop of seeds as a topping or have it be a part of your dressing. “From hemp, chia to flax, sprinkling on seeds for a boost of heart-healthy Omega-3 fats is a great idea. These seeds also contain fiber, protein, and vitamin E,” shares Warren.
Why are trans fats bad for you, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats good for you, and saturated fats somewhere in-between? For years, fat was a four-letter word. We were urged to banish it from our diets whenever possible. We switched to low-fat foods. But the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
The benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer's disease.
Yes, that’s right. One ounce (about 3 fingers' worth) of dark chocolate counts as one serving and contains about 9 grams of fat. About half of its fat content is saturated, but it also contains healthy fats and numerous other healthy nutrients—vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants). And did you know a 1-ounce portion of dark chocolate also boasts 3 grams of fiber? Practically a vegetable. Aim for a cocoa content of at least 70 percent for the highest levels of flavonoids.
Following a high monounsaturated fat diet can be beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity in both individuals who have, or do not have high blood sugar levels. One study found that following a high monounsaturated fat diet for three months managed to improve insulin sensitivity by up to nine percent (14). This was followed by another study which found participants who had metabolic syndrome and followed a high monounsaturated fat diet for twelve weeks had a significant reduction in insulin resistance (15).
Additionally, over 90% of soy, corn, cotton (seed), and canola grown in the US are GMO. Olive oil is not a GMO oil. However, some restaurants blend olive oil with cheaper oil, such as canola oil. There are serious health risks associated with GMO foods, including immune system malfunction, accelerated aging, changes in the gastrointestinal system (leaky gut), and faulty insulin regulation.
One cup of ground flaxseed has a whopping 48 grams of fat, but it's all healthy, unsaturated fat. And here's the thing, you only need 1-2 tablespoons to reap the benefits. Flaxseed is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, too, so ground flaxseed is a great way for vegetarians (or those who don't eat fish) to meet their need. Also, flaxseed contains up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. These plant nutrients contain both plant estrogen and antioxidant properties, and research suggests that they may help prevent certain types of cancer. Last, but not least, flaxseed contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, so it can help you feel fuller longer as well as reduce cholesterol and promote heart health. Sprinkle a little bit on yogurt or oatmeal, or scoop a spoonful into a smoothie. Or try baking it into this delicious, nutty pie crust.
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.
Avocado: One of the most widely known healthy fats, avocado makes an ideal addition to any dish at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's also perfect as a stand alone snack! This powerhouse of a superfood isn't only a monounsaturated fat – it's also loaded with folate, potassium, fiber and vitamins E, C and B6. Don't forget to cook the pulp and eat it as well- the avocado seed is loaded with essential vitamins too! Don't let it go to waste!