Over the years, fat has gotten a bad rap, as it has always been considered a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease and obesity. Not all fats are created equal, and there are many high-fat foods that are actually good for you. Consuming fats is important for overall health, and the key to incorporating them into a balanced diet is choosing the best types of fats and the appropriate serving size.
“In the body, fat is used to build cell membranes, support healthy energy levels, and absorb fat-soluble nutrients,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn. Maya Feller Nutrition and NOW Wellness Expert. “The key is to choose those that support cardiovascular health,” she says. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts, and avocado, and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, and tofu, among others, are considered healthier options because they may 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 increased lipids and cardiovascular disease, so they should be limited. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), mono and polyunsaturated fats can improve overall cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated and trans fats. Plus, swap out healthier fats may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although everyone’s needs vary considerably, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends getting 20% to 35% of your daily calories come from fat. If you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet, that translates to 44 to 77 grams of fat per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day while the American Heart Association recommends aiming for about 5-6% of calories from saturated fat. This translates to about 13 grams of saturated fat per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Here are nine examples of foods high in healthy fats.
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A lawyer a day could keep the doctor away according to a recent study which found that avocado consumption reduced levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
Lawyers are rich in heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and they are a good source of fiber, both of which are beneficial for heart and metabolic health. They’re super versatile and can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory recipes, from guacamole to avocado toast to chocolate avocado mousse.
As if you needed another reason to love avocados, they’re also a good source of potassium (even more than bananas!), with half a cup providing 345 mg.
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“An easy way to incorporate healthy fats into your diet is to add nuts and seeds to your diet,” 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 tree nuts (including tree nuts, other tree nuts and peanuts) was associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, when nuts replaced other unhealthy fats, such as red meat, other cardio-protective factors were observed.
Because nuts are mostly made up of fat, moderation is key. The recommended serving is approximately 1.5 oz. or ¼ cup.
RELATED: 6 of the Best Types of Nuts You Can Eat
Oily 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 higher amount of heart healthy elements. omega-3 fatty acids including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Fish is also an excellent source of protein, and its consumption has been linked to multiple health benefits, including recent study which showed that fish is 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 recommends pregnant women consume 8-12 oz. low-mercury fish per week.
RELATED: The 15 healthiest fish to eat
Flax and chia seeds are good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
These super seeds also contain protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, they’re high in fiber, which can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL), stabilize blood sugar, support digestive health, and potentially help with weight management.
The benefits of flax and chia seeds are endless. Both can be easily incorporated into your diet by adding them to salads, smoothies, and yogurts. With flax seeds, look for ground or crushed varieties, as whole seeds can pass through your digestive tract undigested.
RELATED: How to eat flax seeds and the benefits of chia seed water
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 are also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D.
Eggs have always been associated with conflicting research results due to their high cholesterol content. But a recent review of several studies found that moderate consumption of eggs, up to one a day, is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, it has been shown to possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in certain populations.
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Dark chocolate can 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 cocoa beans – the darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains.
Recent studies have shown that flavonoids 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 mortality risk.
Chocolate fat is mostly found in cocoa butter, and it’s mostly monounsaturated with some saturated fats mixed in. The best way to get all the benefits of dark chocolate is to look for chocolate with more than 70% cocoa.
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Dairy products are a good source of protein and contains several vitamins and minerals important for bone health, including vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus. Certain types of dairy products, such as yogurt, may also have heart health benefits. A recent study published in the American Journal of Hypertension showed that high yogurt consumption in hypertensive adults was associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Additional studies have found that whole dairy products, especially yogurt and whole cheese may protect against cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Since whole dairy products contain unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat, moderation is key here. Choose a serving or two a day with no added sugar to reap the benefits.
Soy is an excellent source of vegetable protein because it is one of the few complete vegetable proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids. Soy is also low in saturated fat and contains mostly heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats.. Recent studies have shown that soy is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
The best way to incorporate soy and soy protein into your diet is to choose whole, unprocessed forms of soy such as edamame, tempeh, miso, and tofu, among others.
RELATED: 40 easy vegetarian tofu recipes
Fat is an essential macronutrient and an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Many foods we eat contain fat-soluble vitamins and can only be absorbed when eaten with fat.
Nutrition researchers are learning that fat is more beneficial than previously thought. It’s important to remember that while fats can provide many health benefits, they are also high in calories and should be eaten in moderation.
A good rule of thumb is to look for foods that contain heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats and replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Amy Fisher, MS, RD, CDN, holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Miami in Ohio and an MS in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Prior to working at Good Housekeeping, she worked at one of New York’s largest teaching hospitals as a heart transplant dietitian. She has authored numerous chapters in clinical nutrition textbooks and has also worked in public relations and marketing for start-up food companies. She has worked as a recipe developer for several food companies and also has extensive experience on the business side of the food industry.
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