Dietary fat has been in the limelight since the 1950s, when researcher Ancel Keys conducted a study analyzing the diet patterns of seven different countries as well as their respective rates of heart disease. At the conclusion of the study, he found that higher levels of serum cholesterol were associated with a higher risk of heart disease and believed that a higher intake of foods high in saturated fat was to blame. (44)
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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.
For decades, doctors, nutritionists, and health authorities have told us that a diet high in saturated fats raises blood cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies have made headlines by casting doubt on those claims, concluding that people who eat lots of saturated fat do not experience more cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.
Avocado: One of the most widely known healthy fats, avocado makes an ideal addition to any dish at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's also perfect as a stand alone snack! This powerhouse of a superfood isn't only a monounsaturated fat – it's also loaded with folate, potassium, fiber and vitamins E, C and B6. Don't forget to cook the pulp and eat it as well- the avocado seed is loaded with essential vitamins too! Don't let it go to waste!
Not only does dark chocolate taste great, but it’s also considered a superfood as well. It’s high in fat and rich in antioxidants, which help protect our bodies from disease-causing free radicals. The flavanols found in dark chocolate also improve heart health, thanks to their ability to lower blood pressure and get more blood flowing to the heart and the brain. (31) And if you’ve ever found that nibbling on a piece of chocolate helps you focus, you’re not alone. It’s a brain food that actually helps improve cognitive performance. (32)
Often thought of as a high-fat food, steak is actually not as high in fat as you may think, particularly if you choose one of these lean cuts, which have 5 grams of fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving, on average. What's more, lean beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, and zinc, all important nutrients for active women. One 3-ounce portion of lean beef packs a whopping 25 grams of muscle-building protein, three times the iron (which is important for carrying the oxygen in your blood to your brain and muscles) of 1 cup of spinach, and a third of your daily zinc needs to help support your immune system. Lean cuts of pork, like pork tenderloin, can also be a good source of fat when eaten in moderation. Cured and processed pork, like bacon, often contains loads of sodium and other preservatives like nitrates (which have been linked to increased heart disease and cancer risk), so they're not the healthiest way to consume the other white meat.
Fat tends to be considered “bad” because it is associated with weight gain and high cholesterol. However, certain types of fat give protective benefits to the heart if appropriate portions are consumed. The key is to understand how to choose the right amount of each type of fat, so we should look closely at the ideas of total fat and each type of fat.
It’s not as high in fat as the other foods on this list, but tofu is still a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A modest, 3-ounce portion of super firm tofu contains 5 to 6 grams of fat and about 1 gram of saturated fat, but this is naturally-occurring fat from the soybeans, and tofu is considered a health food for a reason. It's a solid plant-based protein that’s low in sodium and provides nearly a quarter of your daily calcium needs. Check out these 11 delicious recipes that are perfect for tofu first-timers.
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.
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In other parts of the world, fat has always been welcome at the table. In the U.S., though, we’re only now realizing the truth: not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need fat — more specifically, they need healthy fats. And as high-fat diets like the ketogenic diet continue to gain widespread popularity, more and more people are eager to know what fats qualify as healthy.
A healthy immune system is essential if we want to stay free of bacteria and infections like the common cold. Fats help your immune system by aiding the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants and vitamins. Nuts, seeds, green vegetables and grains are a great source of Alpha-lipoic acid and Omega 3 which help reduce inflammation in the cells, reduce cell death and regenerates antioxidants. Coconut oil is another fat with immune boosting properties. It contains lauric acid and caprylic acid which fight the overgrowth of yeast and prevent infections.
Although for several decades the American Heart Association and other health organizations have advised people to reduce their saturated fat intake, studies have consistently failed to show a link between saturated fat and heart disease. Because of this, the role of natural saturated fats in a healthy diet is now being reconsidered. All in all, saturated fats appear to be neutral in their health effects.
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.
Polyunsaturated fats are required for some of the normal body functions listed above, but the body can’t produce them so they must be obtained from foods. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and can be found in cold-water high-fat fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil (again look for non-GMO or organic), and unhydrogenated soybean oil (also look for non-GMO or organic as most soy products in the US are GMO unless they specifically state non-GMO or organic.) Omega 3’s are also found in some greens, including romaine, spinach, and arugula. Note that the body only partially converts plant-based omega 3’s to DHA and EPA, which are found in cold-water fish
Leading the charge of the healthy fat brigade are avocados. This wonder fruit is essentially Mother Nature’s butter. It’s rich, creamy, and—unlike butter—an acceptable food to eat all on its own. While you should still limit yourself to a quarter or half of an avocado per meal, you have no reason to fear its fats. Avocados pack in healthy monounsaturated fats that contain oleic acid, which can actually help quiet feelings of hunger, according to a Food Function study. They also give you two things butter doesn’t: protein and fiber.
Remember pancreatic lipase from earlier in the duodenum? Well, lipoprotein lipase breaks down triglycerides for absorption which goes into the fat tissue for storage, or it’ll be absorbed in muscle tissue for energy. Where do the chylomicrons go? Basically, they shrink so much that they just become tiny little particles that used to be. They’re absorbed into the liver and then the liver metabolizes them. The liver is key for fat metabolism! Liver health = fat digestion efficiency = healthy fat burning potential.
Healthy ingredients that are high in fat are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Beef, for example, is said to tonify the chi, strengthen the blood, relieve bloating and swelling and keep the spleen healthy. Avocados, on the other hand, are considered cooling and are believed to moisten the lungs, nourish the blood and treat stomach ulcers.
But as you know, not all fats are created equal. Saturated and trans fats are the worst kind, as both increase the amount of bad cholesterol that enters the blood system. Bad fats also lead to inflammation, which can cause numerous debilitating diseases. All of the burgers, French fries, pizza and other greasy junk foods are loaded with these bad fats that can harm your body.