Monounsaturated fats. When you dip your bread in olive oil at an Italian restaurant, you're getting mostly monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature.
For years we’ve been told that eating fat will add inches to your waistline, raise cholesterol, and cause a myriad of health problems. But now we know that not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats can protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats—such as omega-3s—are vital to your physical and emotional health. By understanding the difference between good and bad fats and how to include more healthy fat in your diet, you can improve your mood, boost your energy and well-being, and even lose weight.
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.
Along with nuts, seeds get high marks as healthy fats to improve good cholesterol. And flaxseeds are especially popular among nutritionists because of their versatility in a heart-healthy diet. “Sprinkle flaxseeds onto whatever you like,” says Haisley. “My favorite is with Greek yogurt or on my oatmeal. It is a great addition to salads or whisked into your favorite homemade salad dressing. You can even bake with it, too; try using 3 tablespoons of flaxseed in place of 1 tablespoon of oil or margarine in your muffins.” Try these cranberry-nut mini loaves with flaxseeds.
Consuming monounsaturated fatty acids may protect you from heart disease by lowering LDL and total cholesterol, improve the function of blood vessels, help prevent depression, improve body composition, and improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control (10,11). Monounsaturated fats have even been shown to reduce cancer risk (12). Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contain the antioxidant vitamin E which has many health benefits.
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.
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!
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.
Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
The best way to keep on top of the fats in your diet is to become a label reader. On the nutrition facts panel, you'll find all the information you need to make healthful choices. Look for foods that are low in total fat and well as in saturated and trans fats. Bear in mind that a product whose label boasts it is "trans fat free" can actually have up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving -- and these can add up quickly.
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.
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.