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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.
Eggs are an inexpensive and easy source of protein. People often think egg whites are a healthier option than whole eggs because they contain less fat, but while it's true that the egg yolk contains some fat, it's also packed with important nutrients. One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat, but only 1.5 grams are saturated. Whole eggs are also a good source of choline (one egg yolk has about 300 micrograms), an important B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system. As for the cholesterol? The latest nutrition research has found that eating cholesterol doesn't raise our blood cholesterol. In fact, research has linked moderate egg consumption to improved heart health.
Nuts like pecans, pistachios, cashews, and almonds also pack a lot of healthy fats. Almonds are the richest in vitamin E, and pistachios have lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. All you need to eat is a 1/4 cup serving per day to reap the benefits. Some varieties are fattier than others, like cashews and macademia nuts, so you need to pay closer attention to serving sizes. (Nuts have, on average, 45 grams of fat per cup.) Nutritionists love pistachios because the fact that you have to shell them helps you eat slower and naturally control portion size. The peanut (technically a legume) contains monounsaturated fats but all of its polyunsaturated fats are omega-6s, which evidence suggests may not do us any favors.
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.
Fat tends to be considered “bad” because it is associated with weight gain and high cholesterol. However, certain types of fat give protective benefits to the heart if appropriate portions are consumed. The key is to understand how to choose the right amount of each type of fat, so we should look closely at the ideas of total fat and each type of fat.
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.
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).
Olives are rich in monounsaturated fat. Add them to salads or snacks, and cook with olive oil whenever possible as part of a heart-healthy diet. “Olive oil is made up of triglycerides that contain a very large percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids,” says Janet Bond Brill, PhD, a registered dietitian and author of Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs and Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease. “Up to 80 percent of olive oil is monounsaturated, primarily the omega-9 fatty acid known as oleic acid. The high monounsaturated fatty acid content of olive oil is extremely cardioprotective — it cuts your ‘bad’ cholesterol level, helps prevent atherosclerosis, and can bump up your level of HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol.” Try this simple olive-based side dish of chard with green olives, currants, and goat cheese.
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.
Trans fats appear in foods which contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, these are worse than saturated fats (2). Trans fat can be found in fried foods, baked goods such as pastries, cakes and cookies and processed snack foods such as microwavable popcorn (5). This kind of fat can also raise LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and supress levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL)(5). As a result, the risk of heart disease is much higher than if you were to consume only saturated fats (5, 6).
Trans fatty acids are formed when a liquid fat is changed into a solid fat through a process called hydrogenation. Many manufacturers use hydrogenated oils as an ingredient because it extends the shelf life and consistency of foods. Trans fat will raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. There are no safe levels of trans fat to eat each day, so try to avoid trans fat completely. Even if a food is advertised as “trans fat free,” it can still contain small amounts of trans fat. Therefore, avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oils as ingredients. Sources of trans fat include:
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.
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.
Olive oil is one of the easiest ways to dress your salad. It has anti-inflammatory properties and contains antioxidants. It’s also considered a monounsaturated fatty acid, which is a healthy dietary fat. “Olive oil has been shown to lower the risk of stroke. But be sure to get extra virgin for the most benefits,” advises Warren. Create an array of infused olive oils to not only reap the health benefits but also avoid boring your taste buds. Seamless ways to infuse oils include adding pepper flakes, garlic cloves, or thyme in an airtight glass bottle with your favorite olive oil. Let it marinate overnight—the end result is a vibrant topping for your next salad.
Wondering how to eat more healthy fats to help improve your health? There are plenty of healthy fat diet plan options out there, but the easiest way to get started is by simply adding a few nutritious ingredients into the meals you already eat. Try swapping out the low-fat yogurt for a full-fat variety, sprinkling nuts and seeds into your oatmeal, salads and smoothies and drizzling olive oil over roasted veggies and side dishes for an added dose of healthy fats.
Packed with protein, crammed with calcium, and popping with probiotics, yogurt has all the makings of one of the best foods you can eat for weight loss and general health. Just make sure you go Greek. Whole-milk, Greek yogurts tend to have more protein and fat and less sugar than their leaner versions, which makes for the perfect hunger-squashing team: protein takes longer to break down and fat makes you feel satisfied, so you’ll fly through your morning without an urge to snack.
It’s easy to see the similarities between nuts and nut butters, but you’d be surprised to note that not all nut butters will be good sources of healthy fats. It’s important to check out the nutrition labels on jars of regular and reduced-fat nut butters. You’ll see a few differences: While the reduced-fat butters have—surprise!—less fat, they also have more sugar and salt. Not so good when you’re trading healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower your sensitivity to insulin for insulin-raising sugars. Make sure you go natural and minimalist. Non-natural nut butters can contain the bad trans fat: partially hydrogenated oils.
The fact that many Americans still haven’t shaken off the decades-long notion that fat—and particularly saturated fat—is bad for you, isn’t even the biggest issue we face in adopting more fats into our diets. Many of us struggle to determine which fats we should be eating because the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (and nutrition labels) are both generalizing and misleading.
All fats and oils contain fatty acids. You may be most familiar with Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil. When you eat healthy fats and oils, the digestion process enables the fatty acids to be absorbed into the blood. Fatty acids are a component of fats and oils that become the building blocks of your body, helping to create cells membranes and nerve sheathing among other body functions.