Walnuts have earned their superfood status in part because of their fats. They are one of the few foods to deliver alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat thought to protect against heart disease. Toast them to bring out their flavor and extra crunch, then sprinkle about a tablespoon on yogurt or fold some into muffins or your morning oatmeal.
Saturated fat. This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Following the momentous Seven Countries Study, organizations like the American Heart Association began urging consumers to cut down on consumption of saturated fat to improve heart health despite the lack of evidence demonstrating a clear link between saturated fat and heart disease. Not only did this cause confusion for consumers about the differences between saturated versus unsaturated fat, but it also caused many people to associate overall fat intake with weight gain and heart problems.
Little pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds pack a big punch. They have "good" fats that can lower cholesterol. In general, fats that come from plants are healthier than those from animal products. "Bad" fats are in foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, and some packaged foods. Check food labels to see how much fat, and what type, you're getting. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
Finally, many experts say studies on saturated fat often look at people eating it on top of an otherwise unhealthy diet—for example, alongside refined carbs, sugar, and not enough veggies and fiber—in which case it could certainly increase inflammation and heart disease risk. A reasonable portion of coconut oil on top of fibrous veggies (or grass-fed butter in a saute pan) in a low-sugar, whole foods, plant-based diet, however, comes with health benefits. My advice: think about saturated fat as part of your healthful diet but not as a main ingredient. Coconut oil is great, but it’s not kale.
We used to think that “fat” was a dirty word. But in fact, there are many healthy fats that can reduce high cholesterol, promote good cholesterol, and be a part of a heart-healthy diet. The secret is to focus on the right fats. “Good fats are monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and avocados, and there are also the polyunsaturated fats found in omega-3 fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds,” says Barbara Mendez, MS, RPh, a pharmacist and nutritional consultant in New York City. “These fats help reduce total cholesterol while raising the ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol. This protects the heart from heart disease and also helps reduce total body inflammation. Additionally, these fats nourish healthy hair, skin, nails, and bones.”
Monounsaturated fats. When you dip your bread in olive oil at an Italian restaurant, you're getting mostly monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature.
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.
When in the correct balance with omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats are healing fats. Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. There are healthy and unhealthy sources of omega-6 fats. Healthy sources include sunflower seeds, wheat germ, sesame seeds, and walnuts. When eaten in the ideal ratio with omega-3 fats (between 4:1 and 1:1), these omega-6 fats promote health.
Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha linoleic acid, an omega-3 found in plants. A recent study linked a handful per day to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as improved blood vessel function. Research has also shown that eating nuts appears to reduce the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks as well as improve the health of the lining of our arteries.
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.
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).