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.
Monounsaturated fats are considered one of the healthiest types of fats to eat, and are the backbone of the Mediterranean diet. They are found in olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, nut butters, as well as sesame oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. (Be aware that most Canola oil in the US and Canada is GMO unless specifically labeled as non-GMO or organic.)
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Eating foods with fat is definitely part of a healthy diet. Just remember to choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and balance the amount of calories you eat from all foods with the amount of calories you burn. Aim to eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits intake of sodium, sweets, sugar sweetened beverages and red meats. Doing so means that your diet will be low in both saturated fats and trans fats.

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.


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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.
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.
But wait, bile isn’t the only thing added in here, our pancreas also adds pancreatic digestive juices called lipase to the duodenum which helps break down triglycerides into two fatty acids and a monoglyceride. After this step, though, the fat droplets don’t just disappear. Instead the fatty acids and monoglycerides are absorbed in the microvilli (remember these from Digestion, part I?) and reassembled into triglycerides.
Today’s Basics topic is all about fat! We’ve covered other macronutrients here on the Nutrition Stripped blog such as carbohydrates, protein, and digestion, and now the list is growing! Out of all the macronutrients, people have the most misconceptions about by fat! Today I’m sharing a breakdown of food sources of healthy fats, the function of fat in the human body, how fats are digested, and how our bodies store fat. If I haven’t lost you yet, keep reading on to learn the basics of healthy fat from a dietitian’s point of view. Let’s jump in!
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)
That said, dietary fat plays a significant role in obesity. Fat is calorie-dense, at 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have only 4 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. It's easy to overeat fats because they lurk in so many foods we love: french fries, processed foods, cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, thick steaks, and cheese.
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)
This little wonder food checks all the boxes. It’s an inexpensive food that’s packed with protein and a full amino acid profile. And contrary to decades of popular belief, eggs also don’t raise bad cholesterol levels. In fact, consuming eggs can actually lower cholesterol while improving heart health. (22) The choline found in eggs is also helpful at keeping our brains in tip-top shape. (23)

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.


Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been processed and as a result, behave like saturated fats. Eating trans fats increases the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreases the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body which is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to lower the amounts of trans fats you eat to help you stay healthy.
This green fruit is packed with healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats that help raise your good cholesterol levels as part of heart-healthy diet. “Because avocados are high in calories and fat, moderation makes sense when enjoying them,” says Zimmerman. “Add avocado slices to a sandwich or dice them up in a salad.” Try this simple, healthy avocado salad.
Dr. Michael and Dr. Mary Eades in their book Good Calories, Bad Calories write about the role that saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil play in immune health stating that the “loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi”.
Got fat? While full-fat dairy packs more calories, it’s also more filling. That may help explain why a 2013 study review in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat the fatty stuff are less likely to suffer from obesity than those who try and skip the calories and fat with low-fat dairy. The study authors also found no ties between full-fat dairy and heart disease or diabetes. Ironically, some acids in milk fat—ones you don’t get from zero-fat varieties—may crank up your body’s calorie-burning centers, says study coauthor Mario Kratz, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington.
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.

Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but solidify if refrigerated. These heart-healthy fats are typically a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, a nutrient often lacking in American diets. They can be found in olives; avocados; hazelnuts; almonds; Brazil nuts; cashews; sesame seeds; pumpkin seeds; and olive, canola, and peanut oils.
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.
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.

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.
Fats also help us digest important fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K that keep our brains, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin, and nails healthy (1). Fat provides the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages through our body quickly via hormones. In fact, fats are vital to hormonal health. I’ve worked with many clients recovering from eating disorders or very restrictive diets who have gone years without periods due to their low body fat percentage. There’s a fine line between wanting to be “toned” and “ripped” and being a healthy woman able to provide your body with enough fat reserves for healthy hormones and hormonal production. Fat is crucial for our bodies!
Yes, you need fat in your diet! All three macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and protein – are incredibly important for the human body’s functioning. Fats are important for cellular and hormonal health, and unlike carbohydrates and protein, fats also provide our bodies with a layer of protection, literally insulating our organs and also helping keep a normal body core temperature.
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.
Flaxseed is available in health food stores and many supermarkets, sold as whole seeds, ground seeds, or oil. Although flaxseed oil contains ALA, Magee says ground flaxseed is a much better choice because it also contains 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon, as well as healthy phytoestrogens. Other sources of omega-3s include canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, and walnuts.
Wild-caught salmon, olive oil, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, it’s best to get omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources which contain better converting and more bioavailable forms of DHA and EPA. Plant-based omega-3 rich foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds must be converted in the body from ALA to DHA and EPA, that conversion doesn’t yield as optimal levels of omega-3 compared to food sources like salmon, mackerel, and other fish.

Studies have found that avocados can lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol, boost anti-inflammatory properties, and improve vascular health. It’s very simple to add avocados to just about any salad. “Simply think portion control when integrating it into a weight-loss plan,” says Warren. If you’re concerned about how much fat you’re consuming or simply don’t prefer avocado on its own, try whipping up an avocado-based dressing. Toss an avocado, some Greek yogurt, and seasonings (we like fresh cilantro and parsley) into a blender and enjoy.

Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest form of olive oil and has the richest flavor. It is made without any heat or chemicals and has a low smoke point. Because of its low smoke point, extra virgin olive oil is best used drizzled over cooked or raw foods, or as a salad dressing. To give the salad a nutrition boost, top it with healthy fats from olives, avocado, grass-fed cheese, and nuts.

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.


Get more avocados in your diet by trying one of these avocado recipes. Alternatively, use it to cook with by adding avocado oil to your kitchen pantry. It has a mild taste that won’t overpower dishes the way other oils might and also has a high smoke point, which means it works well for grilling or frying. And because it remains a liquid at room temperature, it’s a tasty choice to drizzle on salads, sandwiches or veggies.

The majority of yogurt’s fat comes from saturated fats, but it also contains monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and naturally-occurring trans fatty acids. Because the overall fatty acid profile is reasonably balanced, it will have no overall effect on cholesterol levels because they both increase LDL but also increase HDL, according to The Journal of the American College of Nutrition.


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.
Confused yet? Why would our body break something down to just put it back together? Long-chain fatty acids are insoluble in blood and in order to transport these across, triglycerides are packaged into chylomicrons that are basically a vehicle that gets released into the lymphatic system and eventually in the blood for circulation. When chylomicrons reach the capillaries of muscle and fat tissue, they activate lipoprotein lipase (stay with me here).
But while there’s still a good amount of debate on the question “Is saturated fat bad?,” there’s no arguing that trans fats should be cut out of your diet altogether. Trans fats are often added to foods through a process called hydrogenation, which is used to increase the flavor and texture while extending the shelf-life of foods like vegetable oils.
Flaxseed is available in health food stores and many supermarkets, sold as whole seeds, ground seeds, or oil. Although flaxseed oil contains ALA, Magee says ground flaxseed is a much better choice because it also contains 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon, as well as healthy phytoestrogens. Other sources of omega-3s include canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, and walnuts.

Along with nuts, seeds get high marks as healthy fats to improve good cholesterol. And flaxseeds are especially popular among nutritionists because of their versatility in a heart-healthy diet. “Sprinkle flaxseeds onto whatever you like,” says Haisley. “My favorite is with Greek yogurt or on my oatmeal. It is a great addition to salads or whisked into your favorite homemade salad dressing. You can even bake with it, too; try using 3 tablespoons of flaxseed in place of 1 tablespoon of oil or margarine in your muffins.” Try these cranberry-nut mini loaves with flaxseeds.


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Yes, you need fat in your diet! All three macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and protein – are incredibly important for the human body’s functioning. Fats are important for cellular and hormonal health, and unlike carbohydrates and protein, fats also provide our bodies with a layer of protection, literally insulating our organs and also helping keep a normal body core temperature.
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