For years we’ve been told that eating fat will add inches to your waistline, raise cholesterol, and cause a myriad of health problems. But now we know that not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats can protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats—such as omega-3s—are vital to your physical and emotional health. By understanding the difference between good and bad fats and how to include more healthy fat in your diet, you can improve your mood, boost your energy and well-being, and even lose weight.
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.
Salmon might not get as bad of a rap for being high in fat, but its health benefits are worth repeating. By adding this fish fillet into your diet just twice a week, you’ll get the full amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the American Heart Association. Omega-3s reduce the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, and can actually slightly lower blood pressure. When you’re at the fish counter, make sure to pick up the right kind—while pink salmon is the second best fish for nutrition and health benefits, farmed Atlantic salmon is one of the worst.
Why are trans fats bad for you, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats good for you, and saturated fats somewhere in-between? For years, fat was a four-letter word. We were urged to banish it from our diets whenever possible. We switched to low-fat foods. But the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
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.
Ideally, you’ll want to consume minimally-processed foods that are full of heart-healthy, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, and EPA), monounsaturated fats (OEA), and the trans fat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as well as some medium-chain saturated fats like stearic acid and lauric acid. On the other hand, stick to foods that have low levels of omega-6 fatty acids and other saturated fats (palmitic acid), and zero manmade trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil). According to the Dietary Guidelines, an easy way to do this (besides following this list) is to lessen consumption of the top sources of saturated fats like pizza, burgers, meats, and processed snacks and sweets.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke. In addition to reducing blood pressure, raising HDL, and lowering triglycerides, polyunsaturated fats may help prevent lethal heart rhythms from arising. Evidence also suggests they may help reduce the need for corticosteroid medications in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies linking omega-3s to a wide range of other health improvements, including reducing risk of dementia, are inconclusive, and some of them have major flaws, according to a systematic review of the evidence by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Fat came under scrutiny in the 1960s when the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers to publish a review on sugar, fat, and heart disease. The sugar industry funded the research to cover up warning signs, which emerged in the 1950s, that sugar caused heart disease (1). Shifting the blame away from sugar, the researchers singled out saturated fat as the cause of heart disease.

Food manufacturers flooded the market with processed foods containing hydrogenated fats and processed sugar. The replacement of saturated fats in the diet with trans fats and sugar resulted in epidemic rates of obesity and its related health complications (2). Rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer have risen since Americans adopted the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
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.
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.
Not only does coconut oil top the charts as one of the healthiest cooking oil options, but you can also apply coconut oil on your skin or use coconut oil for your hair as well. It’s rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest, not readily stored by the body as fat and small in size, allowing them to infuse cells with energy almost immediately. (10)
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The type of fatty acids that make up coconut oil’s saturated fat content is medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and are about 65% of its fat content. Unlike long chain fatty acids (the majority of fats in our diet) which must go through modification prior to being digested and absorbed in our bodies, medium chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract to the portal system. In other words, our bodies find it super easy to break down the fat before getting rapidly absorbed and used for energy by the body. Coming from a clinical background, MCT’s are very commonly used in treating people who have malabsorption issues, are on ketogenic diets, or are increasing calories without much volume.
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.
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If you’re able to tolerate dairy, full-fat dairy can be an excellent source of heart-healthy fats. Probiotic yogurt, in particular, is a staple on the healthy fats list as it contains beneficial bacteria that can help optimize the health of your gut microbiome to promote better overall health. Upping your intake of probiotics can also support healthy digestion, boost immunity and reduce cholesterol levels. (29)
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.

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.

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)


Saturated fats are found in animal products (meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, and eggs) and in vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oils. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats to 10% or less of your total calories, while the American Heart Association recommends keeping them to just 7% of total calories.
Fatty, oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease and high cholesterol. “Salmon, tuna, trout, and Atlantic or Pacific mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Darlene Zimmerman, RD, a dietitian at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Grilled, baked, or broiled, include fish in your heart-healthy diet at least twice a week for a total of 8 ounces, she suggests. Try this great recipe for grilled rosemary salmon.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote health in several ways. They reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels (8).   Omega-3 fats are also essential for brain and eye health (9).

Healthy fats have numerous benefits for your body when included as part of a healthy balanced diet. A diet which includes moderate to high amounts of monounsaturated fats can be useful in weight loss, as long as you don’t eat more calories than you are burning. A large study which combined the results of twenty four other studies found that participants who followed a high-monounsaturated fat diet had more effective weight loss than those who followed high-carbohydrate diets (10).
Omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids are both a type of polyunsaturated fat. For a healthy body, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids need to be eaten in about a 1:1 ratio. However, the standard American diet contains about 15 to 16 times as many omega 6s as omega 3s, so the ratio is way out of whack. Omega 6 fatty acids eaten in a high concentration like that become pro-inflammatory and promote heart disease.
A welcome addition for vegetarians and vegans, nuts and seeds are a terrific option for getting more healthy fats into your diets. For starters, they’re extremely easy to incorporate into your diet; they’re also fairly affordable and easily transportable, making them perfect for snacking. Aside from being a great source of healthy fats, nuts and seeds offer a wealth of benefits for our bodies. Regularly eating them can help lower bad LDL cholesterol to keep your arteries clear and your heart healthy. And like other foods rich in omega-3s, nuts and seeds are also considered brain foods, and certain types are even recommended to help improve mood and defeat depression. (21)
Out of all the fish in the sea, tuna is one of the highest sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Canned light tuna is one of the best and most affordable fish for weight loss, especially from your belly! One study in the Journal of Lipid Research showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation had the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes. And while you’ll find two types of fatty acids in cold water fish and fish oils—DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—researchers say DHA can be 40 to 70 percent more effective than EPA at regulating fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from expanding in size.
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