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.
One easy rule: You should always avoid trans fats—they’re listed on the nutrition label as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Most are artificial and raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol (the good kind that helps keep blood vessels clear). According to the American Heart Association, trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
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.
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.
Although fat is an essential part of the diet, keep in mind that most high-fat foods are also considered calorie-dense foods. When increasing your intake of healthy fats, it’s important to account for this by making modifications to your diet, such as decreasing your intake of refined carbs or sweets. Without making a few simple swaps to your diet, adding high-fat, high-calorie foods can lead to weight gain.
Healthy fats in the right ratio are needed for bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Fats are involved in calcium metabolism and the vitamins K2 and D are both fat-soluble nutrients that collaborate in building bone. Many factors influence bone health, but providing the building blocks for bone with adequate “good” fats and the ideal omega-3 and -6 ratio can only help.
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.
Fat gives your food texture, makes it more filling and – oh yeah – it makes food delicious, too. And while the low-fat diet crazes of the 90s might have steered you away from fatty foods, the truth is that healthy fat is a crucial part of your diet. However, it's important to choose the right types of fat. Some of them offer some serious health benefits, while others offer no nutritional value and pose a serious threat to your health.
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!
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.
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).
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”.
The guidance on saturated fat is a little more complicated. Old nutrition research said saturated fat was really bad for your cholesterol levels, but newer information suggests it has a more neutral effect. The topic is very touchy, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead. Many of the healthy foods below have some saturated fat in them, but it doesn’t make up the majority of the fat content and won’t negate the positive effects of the healthier fats.
Dietary fat has been in the limelight since the 1950s, when researcher Ancel Keys conducted a study analyzing the diet patterns of seven different countries as well as their respective rates of heart disease. At the conclusion of the study, he found that higher levels of serum cholesterol were associated with a higher risk of heart disease and believed that a higher intake of foods high in saturated fat was to blame. (44)
Monounsaturated fats are considered one of the healthiest types of fats to eat, and are the backbone of the Mediterranean diet. They are found in olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, nut butters, as well as sesame oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. (Be aware that most Canola oil in the US and Canada is GMO unless specifically labeled as non-GMO or organic.)
The beauty of nuts and seeds is that you’re spoiled for choice. Walnuts are a great high-fat option with 5 grams of fat per serving, and almonds are packed with vitamin E, but there are so many nuts to choose from that you really can’t go wrong. In fact, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts all have their own delicious nutritional profiles and are rich in healthy fats like oleic acid. You can also opt for nut butters, which make a great snack when paired with apple slices or carrot sticks. Look for nut butters with just one or two ingredients and skip those with added sugars and fillers. You can also try toasting nuts and sprinkling them over salads for an instant boost of healthy fats.
If you’re able to tolerate dairy, full-fat dairy can be an excellent source of heart-healthy fats. Probiotic yogurt, in particular, is a staple on the healthy fats list as it contains beneficial bacteria that can help optimize the health of your gut microbiome to promote better overall health. Upping your intake of probiotics can also support healthy digestion, boost immunity and reduce cholesterol levels. (29)
Polyunsaturated fats can primarily be found in plant-based foods and oils. Similar to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of blood cholesterol (9). A certain type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be particularly beneficial for heart health. They not only lower the risk of coronary artery disease but can also lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats (9). Omega-3 fatty acids can be easily consumed by eating fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and trout.
Get more avocados in your diet by trying one of these avocado recipes. Alternatively, use it to cook with by adding avocado oil to your kitchen pantry. It has a mild taste that won’t overpower dishes the way other oils might and also has a high smoke point, which means it works well for grilling or frying. And because it remains a liquid at room temperature, it’s a tasty choice to drizzle on salads, sandwiches or veggies.