Over the fat years has gotten a bad rap, as it has historically been considered a contributor to cardiovascular disease and obesity. All fats aren’t created equal, and there are many high-fat foods that are actually good for you. Consuming fat is important for overall health, and the key to incorporating it into a balanced diet is choosing the best types of fats and appropriate portion size.
“In the body, fat is used for building cell membranes, supporting healthy energy levels and absorbing fat-soluble nutrients,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition. “The key is to choose the ones that support cardiovascular health,” she says. Monnounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts and avocado, and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds and tofu, among others, are considered healthier options since they can have a positive impact on our health when consumed in moderation.
Alternatively, trans fats and saturated fats, found in red meat, butter, palm oil, etc., contribute to elevated lipids and cardiovascular disease so they should be limited. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), mono and poly-unsaturated fats may improve overall cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated and trans fats. What’s more, swapping in healthier fats may help to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
While everyone’s needs vary widely, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations getting 20% to 35% of your daily calories from fat. If you are following a 2,000-calorie diet, that translates to 44 to 77 grams of fat a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day while the American Heart Association recommends aiming for around 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. That translates to approximately 13 grams of saturated fat per day on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Here are nine examples of foods that are high in healthy fats.
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An avocado a day might keep the doctor away according to recent research which found that avocado consumption lowered levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and they are a good source of fiber, both of which are beneficial for heart and metabolic health. They are super versatile and can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory recipes from guacamole to avocado toast to chocolate avocado mousse.
As if you need another reason to love avocados, they’re also a good source of potassium (even more than bananas!), with a half-cup providing 345 mg.
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“A simple way to incorporate healthy fats into your diet is by adding nuts and seeds to your pattern of eating,” says Feller. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats as well as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, antioxidants and minerals. According to recent research, increased consumption of nuts (including walnuts, other tree nuts and peanuts) was associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, when nuts replaced other unhealthy fats, such as red meat, further cardio-protective factors were seen.
Because nuts are mostly made of fat, moderation is key. The recommended serving size is approximately 1.5 oz. or ¼ cup.
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Fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and bluefin tuna, among others, have more fat in their tissues than other types of fish and, therefore, contain a greater amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids Including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Fish is also a great source of protein, and consumption has been associated with multiple health benefits including a recent study that showed fish to be an optimal food to improve muscle mass and it may slow sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) in middle-aged and older adults.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least 8 oz. of fish per week on a 2,000 calorie diet and recommend pregnant women consume 8 to 12 oz. per week of lower mercury fish.
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Both flax and chia seeds are good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has been linked with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
These super seeds also both contain protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, they are high in fiber which can help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), stabilize blood sugar levels, promote market health and potentially aid in weight management.
The flax and chia seed benefits are endless. Both can be easily incorporated into your diet by adding them to salads, smoothies and yogurt. With flax seeds, look for ground or crushed varieties as whole seeds may pass through your digestive tract without being digested.
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A good source of Protein and vitamin B12, eggs are also one of the best sources of brain-boosting choline which is found in the fatty part of the egg, the yolk. They also are one of the few food sources of vitamin D.
Eggs have historically been associated with conflicting research outcomes due to being high in cholesterol. But a recent review of multiple studies found that moderate consumption of eggs, up to one per day, is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Rather, it has been shown to possibly reduce cardiovascular disease in some populations.
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Dark chocolate may not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but it’s also full of plant-based antioxidants called flavonols. Dark chocolate may contain more antioxidants than other types of chocolate because it contains a higher level of cacao beans — the darker the chocolate the more antioxidants.
Flavonoids have been shown in recent studies to prevent cognitive decline and maintain cognitive function. Another recent study showed that when people with Parkinson’s disease consumed more flavonoids, they had a lower risk of mortality.
The fat in chocolate is found mostly in the cocoa butter, and it is mostly monounsaturated with some saturated fat mixed in. The best way to take advantage of all the dark chocolate benefits is to look for chocolate that contains more than 70% cacao.
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Dairy is a good source of protein and contains multiple vitamins and minerals important for bone health including vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus. Certain types of dairy, such as yogurt, may also have some heart-healthy benefits. A recent study published in the American Journal of Hypertension showed that higher yogurt intake in hypertensive adults was associated with lowered risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Additional studies found that full-fat dairy products, specifically yogurt and full-fat cheese may protect against cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Since full-fat dairy does contain some unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat, moderation is key here. Choose a serving or two per day without added sugar to reap the benefits.
Soy is an excellent source of plant-based protein because it’s one of the few complete plant proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids. Soy is also low in saturated fat and contains mostly heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat. Recent studies have shown that soy is associated with lowered risk of coronary heart disease.
The best way to incorporate soy and soy protein into your diet is by choosing whole forms of soy that have not been processed such as edamame, tempeh, miso and tofu among others.
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Fat is an essential macronutrient and an important part of a healthy and balanced diet. Many foods we consume contain fat-soluble vitamins and can only be absorbed when consumed along with fat.
Nutrition researchers are learning that fat is more beneficial than previously thought. It is important to remember that while fat can provide many health benefits, it is also high in calories and should be consumed in moderation.
A good rule of thumb is to look for foods that contain heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and replace saturated fats with unsaturated ones.
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