The fact that many Americans still haven’t shaken off the decades-long notion that fat—and particularly saturated fat—is bad for you, isn’t even the biggest issue we face in adopting more fats into our diets. Many of us struggle to determine which fats we should be eating because the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (and nutrition labels) are both generalizing and misleading.
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.
Canola oil, derived from the seeds of a plant in the broccoli family, has a near-perfect 2.5:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. According to a study review published in Experimental Biology and Medicine, people who achieve a dietary ratio similar to this have been able to battle cancer, arthritis, and asthma more effectively. The neutral oil is also rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid that may play a role in weight maintenance, according to a recent study.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Just like when selecting healthy sources of fat to include in your diet over fried foods and processed junk, opting for nutrient-dense carbohydrates is key. Go for healthy, gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and oats. Include a good variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes in your diet. Limit your intake of heavily processed and refined carbs to help improve the quality of your diet.
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.
If your focus is on specifically cutting calories from your meal plan to hit your goals faster, you may be considering slashing fat from your diet. That is probably the last thing you want to do. Not only have the benefits of a low-fat diet come into question in some recent research, the importance of healthy fats in your diet can’t be stressed enough. These beneficial fats have been shown to:
Other studies have confirmed the health benefits of following a low-carb diet rather than a low-fat diet. In one study, women lost more weight following a low-carbohydrate diet than a low-fat diet (5). In addition to weight loss, studies also show that low-carb, high-fat diets reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce triglycerides while raising HDL cholesterol levels (6,7).
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.
Perez-Martinez, P., Moreno-Conde, M., Cruz-Teno, C., Ruano, J., Fuentes, F., Delgado-Lista, J., Garcia-Rios, A., Marin, C., Gomez-Luna, M.J., Perez-Jimenez, F. and Roche, H.M., 2010. Dietary fat differentially influences regulatory endothelial function during the postprandial state in patients with metabolic syndrome: from the LIPGENE study. Atherosclerosis, 209(2), pp.533-538.
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.