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.
So you might assume that fat is to blame for the obesity epidemic now plaguing our nation. Actually, fat is only part of the problem. Obesity is much more complicated than just overeating a single nutrient. Eating more calories -- from fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol -- than you burn off leads to weight gain. Simply put, people who get little physical activity and eat a diet high in calories are going to gain weight. Genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle also weigh into the weight-gain formula.
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Omega-3 fatty acids. One type of polyunsaturated fat is made up of mainly omega-3 fatty acids and may be especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3, found in some types of fatty fish, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. There are plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, it hasn't yet been determined whether replacements for fish oil — plant-based or krill — have the same health effects as omega-3 fatty acid from fish.
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.
Besides the healthy fats, dark chocolate comes packed with antioxidants, principally polyphenols including flavonoids such as epicatechin, catechin and notably the procyanidins, which can help fight off free-radicals and improve blood flow to the brain (which might make you smarter!). A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a few ounces of dark chocolate a day is all you need to reap the benefits.
There are many great sources of saturated animal fats. Grass-fed beef and dairy (including cheese, butter, and ghee) and organic, pasture-raised chicken (meat and eggs) are excellent sources and increasingly available in grocery stores. Grass-fed beef and dairy are rich in a number of nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, CLA, healthy proteins, vitamin E, B12, thiamine, riboflavin, creatine, iron & zinc.
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.
Bad fats or trans fats are often used in packaged goods such as chips, pretzels, cookies, fast food, shortenings and some margarine brands. They are even found in some brands of peanut butter. Because the body can't break them down, trans fats (or bad fats) attach to the arteries and may result in plaque formation, which can be linked to heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and asthma, as well as other illnesses.
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.
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!