Flax seeds and chia seeds contain a fat called ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can aid weight maintenance and may reduce heart disease risks by promoting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation. A recent review in the journal Nutrients found that omega-3s can both enhance fat-burning and decrease hunger levels while a report in Nutrition in Clinical Practice found that at a sufficiently high intake, omega-3s improve our ability to metabolize fat by altering the way certain “fat genes” function.
Trans fats are typically found in highly-processed fatty foods such as crackers, cakes, donuts and pastries. Studies show that eating this unhealthy type of fat can have detrimental effects on health; one study in the New England Journal of Medicine even reported that each 2 percent increase in calories consumed from trans fats nearly doubled the risk of coronary heart disease. (39)
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption. Therefore, they have been officially banned in the United States.
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.
Plus, eating a good variety of foods high in fat can also boost brain function. Loading up on the healthy fat foods can soothe inflammation and promote blood flow to the brain to enhance cognitive function. In particular, medium-chain fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats play a critical role in brain function and development. (11, 37, 38)
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.
Saturated fats are generally solid or waxy at room temperature and come mostly from animal products, with the exception of tropical oils. Taking in too much saturated fat is linked with raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood and increasing internal inflammation. Healthy adults should limit their saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total calories. For a person eating a 2000 calorie diet, this would be 22 grams of saturated fat or less per day. If you have elevated LDL cholesterol levels, it is recommended to reduce saturated fat intake to no more than 7% of total calories. Foods high in saturated fat include:
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Healthy fats can reduce the risk factors for heart disease, especially if you are trying to replace ‘bad’ saturated fat. Many studies have found that a high intake of monounsaturated fats can reduce levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides (11, 12). Other smaller studies have found that monounsaturated fats can reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and increase the amounts of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol (13).
One way to combat inflammation is to eat more Omega 3s to help balance the ratio. But you can also look at your intake of omega 6s and try to cut back on those as well. Beef that is fed corn or grains is high in omega 6s (conversely grass-fed beef is high in omega 3s.) Safflower, sunflower corn, and cottonseed oils are all high in omega 6s. (Read labels for chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods, which often contain these oils.) Soybeans and corn are also high in omega 6s. Cutting back on processed foods and eating more cold water, high-fat fish can help get this ratio back in balance.
MCTs, aka medium-chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat jam-packed with heath benefits. They’re easily digested and sent to the liver, where they can give your metabolism a kick-start. In fact, some people even add MCT oil to their morning coffee because it gives you more energy and helps you feel full, a great double-whammy if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. (28)
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Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates. Eating refined carbohydrates in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.
Little pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds pack a big punch. They have "good" fats that can lower cholesterol. In general, fats that come from plants are healthier than those from animal products. "Bad" fats are in foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, and some packaged foods. Check food labels to see how much fat, and what type, you're getting. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
The discovery that monounsaturated fat could be healthful came from the Seven Countries Study during the 1960s. It revealed that people in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean region enjoyed a low rate of heart disease despite a high-fat diet. The main fat in their diet, though, was not the saturated animal fat common in countries with higher rates of heart disease. It was olive oil, which contains mainly monounsaturated fat. This finding produced a surge of interest in olive oil and the "Mediterranean diet," a style of eating regarded as a healthful choice today.
Polyunsaturated fats are required for some of the normal body functions listed above, but the body can’t produce them so they must be obtained from foods. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and can be found in cold-water high-fat fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil (again look for non-GMO or organic), and unhydrogenated soybean oil (also look for non-GMO or organic as most soy products in the US are GMO unless they specifically state non-GMO or organic.) Omega 3’s are also found in some greens, including romaine, spinach, and arugula. Note that the body only partially converts plant-based omega 3’s to DHA and EPA, which are found in cold-water fish
Dr. Michael and Dr. Mary Eades in their book Good Calories, Bad Calories write about the role that saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil play in immune health stating that the “loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi”.
However, many experts disagree with the report’s conclusions on a few fronts. First, the link is based on the reasoning that saturated fat raises total cholesterol levels, but many studies suggest the link between higher cholesterol numbers and heart disease risk has been overstated. And while LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, there are different types of LDL, and the total number may be less important than the composition of the actual particles. Small, dense particles are inflammatory and associated with heart disease risk, while larger particles are not.
Plus, subsequent studies have also found that picking the right types of fat and adding plenty of high-fat foods to your diet could actually bring some big benefits to your health. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when subjects ate either a Mediterranean diet, low-fat diet or low-carb diet, those following a high-fat, low-carb meal plan not only lost the most weight but also drastically reduced their bad cholesterol levels. (2)
What’s that, you say? But people who eat fat are fat. Well, no, not necessarily. Let us explain: Our bodies need dietary fat (which is why many fats are called “essential”) in order to lose weight and function properly. The right kinds of fats help increase satiety, maximize your metabolism, protect against heart disease, speed nutrients through your body, and improve your fat-soluble vitamin uptake. Not to mention, most unprocessed, high-fat foods also come packaged with many of those important nutrients, from vitamins and minerals to free-radical fighting antioxidants.
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It is true. When looking to lose weight or gain muscle, people often focus on their protein and carbohydrate intakes. But fat can be just as important. Fats help to keep hormone levels balanced which means you can recover more quickly, and more effectively from your physical activities. Play around with what you are eating by adding some healthy fats. What you may see is greater muscle gains and leaner curves.
Some tips for recognizing real EVOO are to beware of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter, look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council and check the harvesting date on the label. Additionally, if it’s labeled as “light,” “pure” or a “blend,” it isn’t virgin-quality. And finally, opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation.
The majority of your fat intake should be from unsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. So how much saturated fat per day should you aim for? Both the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and World Health Organization currently recommend limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of daily calories. (42, 43) Stick to healthy sources of saturated fat such as grass-fed beef, coconut oil and MCT oil rather than fried foods or processed meats that are laden with additives and harmful ingredients.
Saturated fat. This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, coconut and the different varieties of coconut may have antimicrobial properties, provide benefits to gut and digestive health (here and here), as well as help increase skin moisture and integrity (here, here, and here). For even more studies to read the science behind coconut oil/medium chain triglycerides, feel free to check out one of my favorite resources here.
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.
Monounsaturated fat can be found in a variety of foods and oils. There is a consistent amount of research which suggests that monounsaturated fat foods can actually improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases (8). Foods which contain monounsaturated fats include nuts, vegetable oils, peanut butter and avocados.