Just like when selecting healthy sources of fat to include in your diet over fried foods and processed junk, opting for nutrient-dense carbohydrates is key. Go for healthy, gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and oats. Include a good variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes in your diet. Limit your intake of heavily processed and refined carbs to help improve the quality of your diet.
SOURCES: Laurie Tansman, MS, RD, nutrition coordinator, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York; Lona Sandon, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; associate professor of nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, consultant, WebMD Weight Loss clinic; author, The Flax Cookbook (Marlowe and Company), Northern California; American Heart Association Advisory on Omega-3 fatty acids; Food and Drug Administration Advisory on Fish Consumption.
But while there’s still a good amount of debate on the question “Is saturated fat bad?,” there’s no arguing that trans fats should be cut out of your diet altogether. Trans fats are often added to foods through a process called hydrogenation, which is used to increase the flavor and texture while extending the shelf-life of foods like vegetable oils.
Besides the healthy fats, dark chocolate comes packed with antioxidants, principally polyphenols including flavonoids such as epicatechin, catechin and notably the procyanidins, which can help fight off free-radicals and improve blood flow to the brain (which might make you smarter!). A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a few ounces of dark chocolate a day is all you need to reap the benefits.
Naturally fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These are "good" fats that help keep your heart healthy. They may also help keep your brain sharp, especially as you get older. The American Heart Association suggests eating two servings of fatty fish a week. A serving is 3 ounces -- about the size of a deck of cards. Try it baked, grilled, or poached.
These fats are found in foods like sunflower oil, soybean oil and some nuts and seeds, and include the essential omega fatty acids. Although these fall into the “healthy fats” category, they should still be limited in the diet, especially when weight loss is the goal of your healthy eating plan, due to the high number of calories these fats represent. The average person should aim to cap total daily fat consumption to 20 to 35 percent of daily calories.
The majority of yogurt’s fat comes from saturated fats, but it also contains monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and naturally-occurring trans fatty acids. Because the overall fatty acid profile is reasonably balanced, it will have no overall effect on cholesterol levels because they both increase LDL but also increase HDL, according to The Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
The dietary reference intake (DRI) for fat in adults is 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. That is about 44 grams to 77 grams of fat per day if you eat 2,000 calories a day. It is recommended to eat more of some types of fats because they provide health benefits. It is recommended to eat less of other types of fat due to the negative impact on health.
Nine moderately athletic men took either spirulina capsules or a placebo for four weeks in a study printed in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Afterward, the men who had taken spirulina supplements were able to run 30 percent longer than the men who had taken a placebo and burned 11% more fat during a run! Fueling up before your run? Check out our exclusive report, Eat This, Not That! For Runners.
Healthy fats are unsaturated fats that are found in fatty fish like salmon, avocados, nuts and seeds, plant oils that are liquid at room temperature like olive oil, and coconut oil. Coconut oil is contested as a healthy fat because it is a saturated fat, but because the majority of its fat content is medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), I consider them an exception.
In fact, while carbohydrates from whole grain, fiber-rich sources can be beneficial, refined carbohydrates found in foods like candies, white bread, baked goods and sweets provide little in terms of nutrition apart from extra calories and sugar. According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, refined carb intake was associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease while consumption of whole grains and polyunsaturated fats was linked to a lower risk. (6)
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.
Use the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list when selecting foods. Look for the amount of trans fat listed. By law a serving of food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as 0 grams. Therefore, it is important to also check the ingredient list rather than just the Nutrition Facts label for the terms trans fat and partially hydrogenated.
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.
Why are trans fats bad for you, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats good for you, and saturated fats somewhere in-between? For years, fat was a four-letter word. We were urged to banish it from our diets whenever possible. We switched to low-fat foods. But the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
When in the correct balance with omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats are healing fats. Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. There are healthy and unhealthy sources of omega-6 fats. Healthy sources include sunflower seeds, wheat germ, sesame seeds, and walnuts. When eaten in the ideal ratio with omega-3 fats (between 4:1 and 1:1), these omega-6 fats promote health.
Walnuts have earned their superfood status in part because of their fats. They are one of the few foods to deliver alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat thought to protect against heart disease. Toast them to bring out their flavor and extra crunch, then sprinkle about a tablespoon on yogurt or fold some into muffins or your morning oatmeal.
Olive oil is one of the easiest ways to dress your salad. It has anti-inflammatory properties and contains antioxidants. It’s also considered a monounsaturated fatty acid, which is a healthy dietary fat. “Olive oil has been shown to lower the risk of stroke. But be sure to get extra virgin for the most benefits,” advises Warren. Create an array of infused olive oils to not only reap the health benefits but also avoid boring your taste buds. Seamless ways to infuse oils include adding pepper flakes, garlic cloves, or thyme in an airtight glass bottle with your favorite olive oil. Let it marinate overnight—the end result is a vibrant topping for your next salad.
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.
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 type of fat with no redeeming nutritional value is trans fat, which is created when food manufacturers artificially convert unsaturated fatty acids into solid, saturated fats. Trans fats have the worst effect on your cholesterol levels, because they actually lower the good HDL cholesterol and increase the harmful LDL cholesterol. They're also highly inflammatory, which may contribute to chronic diseases, and they contribute to insulin resistance, which drives diabetes development.
Of course, these healthy fats are still fats — according to government guidelines, they should make up no more than 20 to 35 percent of your overall calorie intake. But a good rule of thumb is to choose monounsaturated fats in place of unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats whenever possible. The American Heart Association says saturated fats should make up no more than 7 percent of your total intake. To get more healthy fats, here are the foods you should focus on.
Since sources of fat are more calorie-dense, it is important to understand what a serving of a fat is equivalent to. For example, one teaspoon of butter, margarine or mayonnaise is one fat serving. For times when you may not have a measuring spoon available, a visual equivalent of one teaspoon is the tip of your thumb. See below for examples of serving sizes for added fats.
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.
Out of all lean meats, duck has the highest level of a muscle-building form of polyunsaturated fat called arachidonic acid, or AA. Supplementation of arachidonic acid has been shown to increase lean body mass, strength and anaerobic power in men. In a study at the University of Tampa, men who took AA gained 3.4 pounds more lean muscle mass than those who took a placebo. Keep bumping up the burn with these best foods for a toned body.
Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest form of olive oil and has the richest flavor. It is made without any heat or chemicals and has a low smoke point. Because of its low smoke point, extra virgin olive oil is best used drizzled over cooked or raw foods, or as a salad dressing. To give the salad a nutrition boost, top it with healthy fats from olives, avocado, grass-fed cheese, and nuts.
The benefits of avocados are so numerous that they’re one of the healthiest fruits you can consume, not to mention one of the top healthy fats for keto. Avocado nutrition is rich in monounsaturated fats, which raises levels of good cholesterol while lowering the bad — talk about a double-whammy. Avocados are also packed with the benefits of vitamin E, which help fight free radical damage, boost immunity and act as an anti-aging nutrient for your skin. (7)
Avoiding trans fats can be tricky because food labels can be misleading. Even though trans fats have been banned by the FDA, foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving can read 0 grams of trans fat on the food label. To determine if the food contains trans fats, check the ingredient list for “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” oil. While 0.5 grams may seem small, eating several portions of foods containing some trans fat may be enough to affect your health.
You read that right. Even bacon has healthy fats! We recommend going with old school, full-fat pork. While opting for turkey bacon will save you about 13 calories and a gram of fat per slice, it also adds sodium to your plate—which can lead to high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your breakfast plate, serving size matters, so don’t pig out. A few slices are all you need.
What these studies highlight is that when cutting down on saturated fats in your diet, it’s important to replace them with the right foods. For example, swapping animal fats for vegetable oils—such as replacing butter with olive oil—can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for disease. However, swapping animal fats for refined carbohydrates-such as replacing your breakfast bacon with a bagel or pastry-won’t have the same benefits. That’s because eating refined carbohydrates or sugary foods can have a similar negative effect on your cholesterol levels, your risk for heart disease, and your weight.
Coconut is high in saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that battles bacteria, improves cholesterol scores, and, as a Journal of Nutrition study found, increases the 24-hour energy expenditure in humans by as much as 5 percent. And get this: A study published in Lipids found that dietary supplementation of coconut oil actually reduced abdominal fat. Sprinkle unsweetened flakes over yogurt or use coconut oil in a stir-fry to start whittling your waist. Need more reasons to get coconut in your diet? Check out these benefits of coconut oil.
These polyunsaturated fats, also known as essential fatty acids, are a must from your diet as they cannot be produced by the body like other fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseed, and even some grass-fed meats. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like safflower oil and grapeseed oil. While many of us get too many omega-6 fatty acids, we often fall short on our omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to healthier heart and brain function. Research indicates that intake of these two essential fatty acids should be balanced for optimal health.