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Over the last couple of decades, foods high in fat, have gone from being popular to unpopular, unpopular to VERY unpopular and then back again to popular.
Fat has made its way back into our lives. But more importantly, so has the distinction of the type of fat.
Fat is an essential part of our diet, providing the body with energy, aiding hormone function, memory and the absorption of specific nutrients.
This article discusses what healthy fats are, the top healthy fat foods to include in your diet and unhealthy fats to avoid.
Types of Fat
There are four major types of fat:
- Monounsaturated (also known as omega-9 fatty acids).
- Polyunsaturated (also known as omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids).
- Trans fatty acids.
According to the American Heart Association, one should limit their intake of trans fat and saturated fat and replace them with “better fats," namely monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Similarly, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting intake of trans fats and saturated fats.
Too much trans fats in the diet has been associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol, as well as a decrease in HDL cholesterol, the “good cholesterol," which can increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
Saturated fats, too, have been shown in some studies to raise cholesterol levels putting a person at a higher risk for heart disease.
However, more and more research does support the fact that we still have a lot to learn about saturated fats and their relationship to heart disease.
Unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – are generally referred to healthy fats.
These types of fats are mainly found in plant foods, such as avocados, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Unsaturated fats are also found in fatty fish like salmon.
As with most foods though, one should not focus on a single nutrient, but instead on the total of all the vitamins and minerals it may include. Many foods that are high in healthy fats are also great sources of antioxidants and other important nutrients, such as protein and fiber.
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13 Healthy High Fat Foods
Extra-virgin olive oil.
Plain whole milk Greek yogurt.
Rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados always make the list of healthy high fat foods.
Avocados are also a good source of antioxidant vitamins C and E, which have anti-inflammatory properties that protect our bodies from the damage of free radicals.
Avocados are great on whole-wheat toast with an egg on top, blended into a smoothie or, for extra yumminess, in a mixed green salad.
Small and versatile, chia seeds are an easy way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a decrease in depression, heart disease and joint inflammation.
One serving of chia seeds (two tablespoons) provides around ten grams of fiber. Fiber in the diet is known to help prevent constipation, manage blood sugar levels and add meal-time satiety.
Enjoy chia seeds as toppings for oatmeal, cereal or yogurt, or bake them into muffins or bread.
Eggs have also seen a lot of controversy around them. But according to the American Heart Association, healthy individuals can include up to a whole egg daily in healthy diet patterns, and up to two eggs per day is recommended for aging adults.
Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein and provide bone-promoting vitamin D. They also contain the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Eggs are great as scrambled, over-easy, poached, boiled or in an omelet with lots of veggies.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Another top heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, olive oil is known to be a staple in the popular Mediterranean diet. It’s also rich in vitamin E, which may help the body maintain immune and skin health, and vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and bone formation.
Since it does contain 120 calories per tablespoon, one should be careful to not use too much when tossing olive oil into salads, sautéing or marinating chicken, meat or fish.
Plain Greek Yogurt
Choosing full-fat yogurt typically keeps a person fuller, making it a better snack, or breakfast, choice for many.
Greek yogurt is not only packed with protein, but also calcium, which is important for bone strengthening and building. It also contains probiotics, living microorganisms, which are beneficial for maintaining gut health.
Try yogurt mixed with berries in a smoothie, replace mayo with it for egg or tuna salad or add it to thicken soups or sauces.
Salmon and other fatty fish are among the best sources of omega-3s in the diet.
It is also a great source of protein, B vitamins, selenium and potassium. B vitamins help our body metabolize carbohydrates and convert them to energy.
Selenium helps protect our body from cell damage. And potassium is important for maintaining our blood pressure.
Salmon is delicious on the grill, baked or broiled. Simply rub with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
Almonds, like other nuts, are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats, as well as a good source of fiber, vitamin E and magnesium.
Magnesium is crucial for healthy muscles and nerves. A daily serving of almonds has been linked to a decrease in cardiovascular disease.
Almonds make the perfect on-the-go snack or can be tossed into salads, yogurt or cereal.
Edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans that are simply steamed or boiled before being eaten.
They are an excellent plant-based protein packed with omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Isoflavone compounds, found in edamame, have been shown to reduce symptoms of menopause.
Edamame can be enjoyed on its own slightly salted, tossed into salads, blended with hummus or added to a veggie stir-fry.
Olives may be small, but they are packed with nutrition. In addition to heart-healthy fats, olives contain about 2 grams of fiber per ¼ cup of different varieties, such as black, green and Kalamata olives.
Black olives, specifically, are a good source of iron, which is important for your red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body.
Personally, I like my olives in an extra dry martini, but they can also be enjoyed as a snack on their own, as a pizza topping or thrown into a pasta sauce.
Another amazing nut packed with healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants is pistachios.
Compared to other nuts, pistachios are lower in calories and have been associated with a reduction in body mass index in the context of a behavioral weight loss intervention program.
Pistachios are delicious on their own, tossed into salads or yogurt or used instead of breadcrumbs in baked fish or chicken.
Not just for kids in a PB&J sandwich, peanut butter is a great choice when looking for a healthy fat and satiating food option to be enjoyed as a snack or part of a meal.
Make sure when choosing a brand, you opt for one whose ingredients are peanuts and salt only, with no added sugars.
Enjoy a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple for a savory snack or on 100% whole-wheat toast with sliced pears and a drizzle of honey for the perfect sandwich.
Tofu is a great source of plant-based protein and healthy fat. It is also rich in soy isoflavones, an antioxidant compound, which research has found to be associated with a decrease in heart disease and dementia.
Tofu has basically no flavor of its own and takes on the taste of whatever it is cooked with. Marinating it before cooking is key for enjoyment.
Last, but not least, are hemp seeds. This is a seed that I believe doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Around 25% of calories in hemp seeds come from protein – which is a lot from a plant-based food.
It also includes healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, and various vitamins and minerals. Important to note that even though they come from the cannabis plant, they contain only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets you high.
Hemp seeds are great tossed in salads, smoothies, yogurt and cereals.