Fat is a type of nutrient, and just like protein and carbohydrates, your body needs some fat for energy, to absorb vitamins, and to protect your heart and brain health. And despite what you may have been told, fat isn’t always the bad guy in the health and waistline wars. “Bad” fats, such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But “good” fats such as unsaturated fats and omega-3s have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
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Although fat is an essential part of the diet, keep in mind that most high-fat foods are also considered calorie-dense foods. When increasing your intake of healthy fats, it’s important to account for this by making modifications to your diet, such as decreasing your intake of refined carbs or sweets. Without making a few simple swaps to your diet, adding high-fat, high-calorie foods can lead to weight gain.
The healthy fats I want in your diet are the monounsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, flaxseed oil, and nuts, and the polyunsaturated in the form of omega-3s, like fatty fish (tuna and salmon), walnuts, eggs, and chia seeds. (Skip polyunsaturated in the form of processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower, which are made up of mostly omega-6 fatty acids.) These healthy fats are linked to strong immunity, improved cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, and improved brain functioning.
We mean the yolks, not shells. If you’re one of the people who still isn’t sure if you should eat the yolk, here’s your answer: yes! While the whites are all protein, leaving the yolk to contain the fat and cholesterol, there’s no need to worry. The fat in yolks is mostly monounsaturated, and a study by University of Connecticut researchers found that the overall fat profile in egg yolks ultimately helps to reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Not only will it improve your cholesterol, eggs are the number-one dietary source of a nutrient called choline. Choline, which is found also in lean meats, seafood, and collard greens, attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver.
Olives are rich in monounsaturated fat. Add them to salads or snacks, and cook with olive oil whenever possible as part of a heart-healthy diet. “Olive oil is made up of triglycerides that contain a very large percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids,” says Janet Bond Brill, PhD, a registered dietitian and author of Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs and Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease. “Up to 80 percent of olive oil is monounsaturated, primarily the omega-9 fatty acid known as oleic acid. The high monounsaturated fatty acid content of olive oil is extremely cardioprotective — it cuts your ‘bad’ cholesterol level, helps prevent atherosclerosis, and can bump up your level of HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol.” Try this simple olive-based side dish of chard with green olives, currants, and goat cheese.
The beauty of nuts and seeds is that you’re spoiled for choice. Walnuts are a great high-fat option with 5 grams of fat per serving, and almonds are packed with vitamin E, but there are so many nuts to choose from that you really can’t go wrong. In fact, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts all have their own delicious nutritional profiles and are rich in healthy fats like oleic acid. You can also opt for nut butters, which make a great snack when paired with apple slices or carrot sticks. Look for nut butters with just one or two ingredients and skip those with added sugars and fillers. You can also try toasting nuts and sprinkling them over salads for an instant boost of healthy fats.
Polyunsaturated fats can primarily be found in plant-based foods and oils. Similar to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of blood cholesterol (9). A certain type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be particularly beneficial for heart health. They not only lower the risk of coronary artery disease but can also lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats (9). Omega-3 fatty acids can be easily consumed by eating fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and trout.