Certain types of fat also possess anti-inflammatory properties, which can help protect against chronic disease and help improve health. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, have been shown to relieve inflammation and reduce symptoms of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. (35) Monounsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, may help increase good HDL cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels and decrease the risk of heart disease. (36)
These small but mighty seeds are loaded with omega-3s, fiber, protein, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Their popularity as a superfood is well deserved—you can toss a tablespoon into your smoothies for a quick fat, fiber, and protein boost, or soak them overnight for a ready-when-you-wake-up breakfast parfait. You can even use them to add nutritional punch to your desserts.
You'll primarily find saturated fat in animal-derived foods, particularly fatty red meat and processed meat. And while recent research has called into question exactly how big of a negative impact saturated fat has on your health, Harvard recommends replacing sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fat. Grilling up salmon instead of a burger, for example, fits the bill.
One way to combat inflammation is to eat more Omega 3s to help balance the ratio. But you can also look at your intake of omega 6s and try to cut back on those as well. Beef that is fed corn or grains is high in omega 6s (conversely grass-fed beef is high in omega 3s.) Safflower, sunflower corn, and cottonseed oils are all high in omega 6s. (Read labels for chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods, which often contain these oils.) Soybeans and corn are also high in omega 6s. Cutting back on processed foods and eating more cold water, high-fat fish can help get this ratio back in balance.
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.
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Flax seeds and chia seeds contain a fat called ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can aid weight maintenance and may reduce heart disease risks by promoting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation. A recent review in the journal Nutrients found that omega-3s can both enhance fat-burning and decrease hunger levels while a report in Nutrition in Clinical Practice found that at a sufficiently high intake, omega-3s improve our ability to metabolize fat by altering the way certain “fat genes” function.
Trans fats are processed to prevent rancidity by combining liquid oil with hydrogen to make a solid fat. Trans fats are commonly found in margarines and vegetable shortening, cookies, crackers, baked goods, and fast-food French fries. Look for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats or oils when you read labels, and avoid eating these foods if possible.
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.
While the guidelines called for more carbs in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, what the average American understood was that carbs — any kind of carbs — were good (even refined carbohydrates!) and all fat was bad. The food industry pounced and high-carb, low-fat foods became the norm. Grocery store shelves and refrigerators were soon lined with low- and no-fat items that were packed with sugar to help enhance the flavor. Not coincidentally, both a sugar addiction as well as an obesity epidemic in America began soon after low-fat diets became the standard recommendation.
Some tips for recognizing real EVOO are to beware of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter, look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council and check the harvesting date on the label. Additionally, if it’s labeled as “light,” “pure” or a “blend,” it isn’t virgin-quality. And finally, opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation.
One cup of black olives has 15 grams of fat, but again, it is mainly monounsaturated. Plus, no matter what variety of olive you enjoy, they all contain many other beneficial nutrients as well, such as hydroxytyrosol, a phytonutrient that has long been linked to cancer prevention. New research is showing that this phytonutrient may play a role in reducing bone loss as well. And if you have allergies or other inflammatory conditions, olives might be just the snack for you as research suggests that olive extracts function as anti-histamines on the cellular level. Even with all these benefits, it is important to be mindful of your serving size as olives can be high in sodium. Stick to 5 large or 10 small olives as the perfect portion.
From time to time, try swapping other meats for a serving of fatty fish that is high in protein and Omega-3s. Popular types of fatty fish include salmon, anchovies, Chilean sea bass, mackerel, and sardines. Those who consumed this type of fish regularly were found to have less of a risk for a heart attack, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Warren adds that consuming fatty fish has also been linked to an improved mental ability and may help prevent cancer.
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.
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.
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption. Therefore, they have been officially banned in the United States.
As SELF has previously reported, research is starting to suggest that consuming full-fat dairy products over low-fat or fat-free ones may have weight-control benefits. It may even help reduce type 2 diabetes risk. One cup (8 ounces) of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat with 5 grams saturated fat versus skim milk, which contains none of either. Other proponents of keeping the fat in dairy products point out that you need fat to absorb the vitamin A and D in the milk, since they are fat-soluble vitamins.