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.
Meanwhile, the Indian version of butter is quickly becoming a favorite across the globe. Ghee, or clarified butter, is simmered to bring out butter’s naturally nutty flavor, leaving it with a high smoke point that makes it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. Ghee benefits include being loaded in fat-soluble vitamins A and E. These types of vitamins are best absorbed by your body when they’re in a high-fat substance and then stored in your gastrointestinal tract, keeping your metabolism and digestion on track. It’s also lactose- and casein-free, which makes it a fantastic alternative to butter if you suffer from lactose sensitivity or intolerance.
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.
The healthy fats I want in your diet are the monounsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, flaxseed oil, and nuts, and the polyunsaturated in the form of omega-3s, like fatty fish (tuna and salmon), walnuts, eggs, and chia seeds. (Skip polyunsaturated in the form of processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower, which are made up of mostly omega-6 fatty acids.) These healthy fats are linked to strong immunity, improved cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, and improved brain functioning.
There are two basic kinds of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are considered “healthy fats” include both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These types of fats are typically found in vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature, fatty fish, (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), and nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3’s that are the building blocks of cell membranes I mentioned earlier. Omega-3’s also give your body energy and help support your hormones and immune system (3).
Healthy fats in the right ratio are needed for bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Fats are involved in calcium metabolism and the vitamins K2 and D are both fat-soluble nutrients that collaborate in building bone. Many factors influence bone health, but providing the building blocks for bone with adequate “good” fats and the ideal omega-3 and -6 ratio can only help.
All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in beef, cheese, and ice cream. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
Is olive oil good for you? Believe it or not, the olive oil benefits are so profound that almost any diet should include it. First, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for heart health. In fact, olive oil consumption has been linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels and improved blood vessel function. (14, 15, 16) The high amount of antioxidants in EVOO means it protects your cells from damage. It also helps improve memory and cognitive function and works as an anti-inflammatory agent. (17) Since inflammation is at the root of most diseases, this is a biggie! (18)
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.
Although fat got a lot of flak in the carb-crazy ‘90s, fat is actually very important to a healthy diet. Fat comes in two main forms: unsaturated and saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are oils — the kind that are fluid at room temperature (such as olive and canola oils). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (think a stick of butter or glob of coconut oil).
You'll primarily find saturated fat in animal-derived foods, particularly fatty red meat and processed meat. And while recent research has called into question exactly how big of a negative impact saturated fat has on your health, Harvard recommends replacing sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fat. Grilling up salmon instead of a burger, for example, fits the bill.
Cheese often gets a bad-rap for being a high-fat food—especially hard, full-fat cheeses like Parmesan. While it is true that cheeses have more saturated fats than plant based foods, they (especially Parmesan, which contains 8 grams fat and 5 grams saturated fat per ounce), provide loads of other nutrients as well. In fact, Parm tops the cheese charts in terms of its bone-building calcium content, providing nearly a third of your daily calcium needs. Ounce for ounce, it has more protein than any other food—and yes, we are including meat and eggs on that list!
The overarching message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. (1, 15, 22) Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.
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.