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.
MCTs, aka medium-chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat jam-packed with heath benefits. They’re easily digested and sent to the liver, where they can give your metabolism a kick-start. In fact, some people even add MCT oil to their morning coffee because it gives you more energy and helps you feel full, a great double-whammy if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. (28)
All digestion first takes place in the mouth from chewing and saliva beginning to break down food. After you eat a fat-containing food, such as almonds, you first break down the food in your mouth. Next, it goes to your stomach where those solid pieces of almond are further broken down via stomach acid (2). Fats actually hang out in the stomach for quite a bit which is one reason for why fat keeps you feeling fuller longer. Depending on the volume of food and components of food, healthy fats may keep you feeling full for hours.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found only in animal foods. Unlike fatty acids, it doesn’t provide energy. However, your body needs it in order to produce steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help digest fat. All of your cells make cholesterol; in fact, most of the cholesterol in your blood comes from your body rather than the food you eat. Dietary cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol levels much, if at all, nor does it increase heart disease risk.
Plus, subsequent studies have also found that picking the right types of fat and adding plenty of high-fat foods to your diet could actually bring some big benefits to your health. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when subjects ate either a Mediterranean diet, low-fat diet or low-carb diet, those following a high-fat, low-carb meal plan not only lost the most weight but also drastically reduced their bad cholesterol levels. (2)
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.
While all unsaturated fats are good for you, you'll get more benefits from omega-3 fatty acids. These unsaturated fatty acids can't be produced by your body, so you need to get them from your diet. And they're crucial to your well-being, since they promote good cardiovascular health, play a role in brain function and offer anti-inflammatory benefits. They're also great for your cholesterol, since they increase "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels.
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.
Little pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds pack a big punch. They have "good" fats that can lower cholesterol. In general, fats that come from plants are healthier than those from animal products. "Bad" fats are in foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, and some packaged foods. Check food labels to see how much fat, and what type, you're getting. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
Consumption of hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats is associated with cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low- birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons (13). It has also been shown to increase the risk of depression (14).
There are actually three different types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The preferred sources of omega-3s are DHA and EPA, the kinds found in seafood sources like nutritious salmon and sardines. (19) ALA, on the other hand, is found in many plant foods, including nuts and seeds and certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts.
Healthy fats in the right ratio are needed for bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Fats are involved in calcium metabolism and the vitamins K2 and D are both fat-soluble nutrients that collaborate in building bone. Many factors influence bone health, but providing the building blocks for bone with adequate “good” fats and the ideal omega-3 and -6 ratio can only help.
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.
Research supports the effectiveness of consuming more healthy fats. In a recent study of 60 people with mild abdominal obesity, researchers found that eating a high-monounsaturated-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet, which contains both monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats, raised HDL cholesterol levels and lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. And a number of studies have shown that having a higher HDL level reduces the risk of heart disease and might also reduce the chances of plaque building up in the arteries.
First, focus on reducing foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Then emphasize food choices that include plenty of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). But a word of caution — don't go overboard even on healthy fats. All fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So consume MUFA-rich and PUFA-rich foods instead of other fatty foods, not in addition to them.
Monounsaturated fatty acids. This is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that these fatty acids may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.
Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred energy source because they are easier and quicker for our bodies to digest and use for energy. On the other hand, fat takes a different route before we can use it as energy because it is insoluble in our blood. Think of fat as being a reserve or our long-term source of energy that sticks around the longest. On the technical side, which we’re about to get very technical: fat is three fatty acids + a glycerol molecule, or a triglyceride (tri- as in three and glyceride).
But even as important is their ability to reduce the negative impact of yet another essential type of fatty acid known as omega-6s. Found in foods such as eggs, poultry, cereals, vegetable oils, baked goods, and margarine, omega-6s are also considered essential. They support skin health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood "sticky" so it is able to clot. But when omega-6s aren't balanced with sufficient amounts of omega-3s, problems can ensue.
Wondering how to eat more healthy fats to help improve your health? There are plenty of healthy fat diet plan options out there, but the easiest way to get started is by simply adding a few nutritious ingredients into the meals you already eat. Try swapping out the low-fat yogurt for a full-fat variety, sprinkling nuts and seeds into your oatmeal, salads and smoothies and drizzling olive oil over roasted veggies and side dishes for an added dose of healthy fats.