In case you missed it, fat is back—in a big way. More specifically, healthy high fat foods.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize that the types of fat we eat are more important in determining the risk of heart disease than is total fat intake. They note that replacing foods high in saturated fats with foods high in unsaturated fats has protective benefits, especially when it comes to heart disease.
Plus, unsaturated fats help keep you full longer so you avoid overeating throughout the day, and they help reduce the bad cholesterol in your blood. Did we mention they taste good, too? Keep reading to learn the healthiest, high-fat foods you should stock up on.
What Are “Good” Fats?
Health experts are giving fats the green light, but they do want you to be more discerning about the types of fat you’re eating. First, you’ll need to know all the different types of dietary fat there are:
- Saturated Fat
- Monounsaturated Fat
- Polyunsaturated Fat
- Trans fat
We break down everything you need to know about each of these and which foods have them in our guide to types of fat. But at a high level, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered “good” fats to add to your diet. Saturated fats can be consumed in moderation, though high levels may be harmful to your heart health. Trans fats are used in many common snack products people love—even though the fat in these products may be bad, that doesn’t mean you need to strike them from your diet entirely. You simply need to be mindful that these are foods to be enjoyed every once in a while, and balanced out by plenty of health-boosting foods with healthier forms of fat. In general, moderation is the key to success of an overall healthy diet that supports the body and mind.
What Foods Are High in Cholesterol and Are They Bad?
There’s been a lot of confusion around dietary cholesterol over the years. There’s a big difference between high blood levels of cholesterol (usually called high cholesterol) and dietary cholesterol that we get from foods like eggs, meat, and full-fat dairy products. But even that doesn’t get to the root of the misunderstanding about cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a bit like cortisol, the stress hormone. We assume they’re both always bad—but that isn’t the case. Cortisol does rise when we’re stressed, but it’s also an essential “get up and go” hormone that allows you to get out of bed in the mornings. Similarly, cholesterol, which is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in your body, is vital to your body in some ways and in the right amounts. It’s part of cell membranes. It’s required in order to make essential hormones like vitamin D.
When most people talk about cholesterol, they’re actually talking about lipoproteins,which carry cholesterol around your body. This is where low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) come into play. You want fewer LDL particles (“bad” cholesterol) and more HDL particles (“good” cholesterol).
In most people, dietary cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol levels. Researchers estimate that approximately one-third of people are sensitive to dietary cholesterol, whereas the other two-thirds are not. You should discuss your health history with your healthcare provider who can advise you, based on your individual body and health, whether you need to be cautious of dietary cholesterol.
Healthy High-Fat Foods to Enjoy On the Regular
At Freshly, we believe that healthy eating shouldn’t have to mean compromising on nutrition or flavor. So we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at which kitchen staples qualify as healthy high-fat foods. Here’s what you need to know about their healthy fats as well as the other health benefits you’ll enjoy when you add them to your weekly meal rotation.
1. Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate makes the list. You might be surprised to learn that dark chocolate contains monounsaturated fats like oleic acid. It’s also rich in flavonoids, which are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some inflammation is to be expected from our daily lives, even healthy activities like working out. But chronic inflammation, the kind that sticks around, is linked to a wide range of chronic diseases, from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and even certain cancers.
Oleic acid specifically, the type of fat in dark chocolate, has been linked to anti-cancer activities in the body. Some genes are linked to certain types of cancer. The most well-known example of this is BRCA, the gene linked to breast cancer. But just because you have a cancer gene doesn’t mean it will express itself, or that you’ll develop the cancer. Studies show that oleic acid may be able to act on certain cancer genes, suppressing them to some degree.
How to Enjoy It: Not just any bar will do if you want to enjoy the health benefits of dark chocolate. The higher percentage of cacao in chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains, so go for a 70% or darker option. You also want to find a bar made with non-alkalized cocoa. Alkalization is a process by which some of the bitter flavor is taken out of the cocoa, but it also gets rid of antioxidants. Enjoy around 1 ounce of dark chocolate (which is a square or two) a few times a week to satisfy your sweet tooth.
We could go on and on about the health benefits of avocado—and we did. Over 75 percent of this berry’s total nutrient content is considered “good” fat. Those impressive stats and the versatility of avocado in recipes are what have earned it a cult following. But avocado toast does far more than look good on Instagram—it keeps you feeling full thanks to the one-two punch of avocado’s fat and fiber. A 100g serving of the fruit also packs in 26% of your vitamin K needs. Though vitamin D and calcium tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to bone health, vitamin K plays a critical role, too. In fact, getting enough of the Ks can reduce the risk of bone loss-related fractures by over 50%. It’s also associated with a significant decrease in cancer risk.
But the fat in these buttery berries is also important. Like dark chocolate, avocados boast oleic acid, the healthy fat with anti-cancer properties. This fat is an excellent choice for feeling full, whether or not your goal is to lose weight. In one study, participants who consumed avocado with a meal felt 23% more satisfied than those who didn’t eat the berry. Even better, they also had a 28% lower desire to eat over the next 5 hours. That can be especially important for long days at the office with an afternoon packed full of meetings.
How To Enjoy It: There are also tons of great ways to use avocado, from slathering them on your eggs to stuffing them with beans and quinoa for a delicious appetizer. A good serving size is ⅓ of a medium avocado, which has about 80 calories (versus 240 calories for a whole avocado). But avocado can also be used as a fat in a wide range of meals, from bowls and toasts to sandwiches and even smoothies.
Nuts as a group boast healthy fats, but each type of nut has their own health benefits. Despite their high fat and calorie content, nuts have been shown through multiple studies to actually promote healthy weight maintenance. In fact, increasing your nut intake may actually decrease the chances of weight gain over time as well as slash the risk of future obesity. Though it’s worth reaching for any of the nuts (peanut included, even though they’re a legume) for a snack, here’s why we love certain ones in particular:
Almonds contain about 14 grams of unsaturated fat per ounce, along with tons of protein, antioxidants, fiber, and magnesium. Studies have found that a diet higher in almonds may successfully lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Almonds may even help with your gut health. One study found that almonds supported the growth of strains of “good” gut bugs, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
These green nuts are a particularly delicious way to up your daily intake of healthy fats and fiber. Three of the eight grams of carbs from one ounce of pistachios come from fiber. Like almonds, pistachios may also help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and, paired with a high-carb meal, they successfully blunt glycemic response. Without peaks and troughs in blood sugar, you can enjoy more stable energy levels between meals.
Compared to other nut varieties, cashews are higher in carbs, but they still pack a powerful punch of healthy fat and protein. In study participants with type 2 diabetes, cashews were able to lower systolic blood pressure and increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels. And this dietary change appears sustainable. Researchers looked at the participants’ blood levels of oleic acid, the healthy fat found in these nuts, and found that they were at levels that showed the participants consistently stuck to the diet with increased cashew intake.
Walnuts are especially beneficial for people following a plant-based diet, such as vegetarians and vegans. That’s because they boast alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3. Most omega-3s come from meat-based sources, such as fatty fish, so it can be a challenge for plant-based eaters to get enough. It’s thanks to these healthy fats that walnuts may decrease inflammation, which is linked to many chronic diseases.
How To Enjoy Them: It’s easy to go overboard with nuts, especially if you’re watching your calorie intake. A one-ounce serving is a good size as a snack, and many studies have linked even this small amount with plenty of health benefits. Look for nuts that are dry roasted to avoid unwanted oils, some of which are “bad” fats. Also avoid glazed nut snacks since they’re high in added sugars. But it’s possible to find dry roasted nuts dusted with flavor-packed spices such as cocoa powder, cinnamon, or chile powder—and those are a nutritional go.
Remember that confusion about cholesterol? For a long time, the yolk in eggs was reviled for its fat and cholesterol content. But evidence linking food cholesterol and blood cholesterol is weak and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans lifted the previous recommended limit for dietary cholesterol. One review of 17 clinical trials on eggs found that there was no increased risk of either heart disease or stroke in people who ate an average of one egg daily.
Fitting more eggs into your diet may also increase your “good” HDL cholesterol, higher levels of which are associated with lower mortality rate and lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. A single egg also provides 22% of your daily needs of selenium, a trace mineral that’s essential in the proper functioning of your metabolism. But eating the whole egg is important. The egg yolk is the part that contains these healthy fats as well as choline, an essential nutrient many people don’t get enough of. A diet lacking in choline can lead to serious complications such as fatty liver or muscle damage.
How to Enjoy Them: How you enjoy your eggs—whether it’s sunny side up, scrambled, or poached—doesn’t affect its nutrition, so choose whatever method you enjoy most or tailor it to your meal. Be careful with cooking your eggs in unnecessary or excessive oil and, when possible, avoid egg preparations that mix in even more fat from unknown sources, such as egg salad and deviled eggs, to avoid potential sources of “bad” fats. The American Heart Association gives the green light to enjoying one egg every day.
5. Fatty fish
Wild, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, trout, and mackerel are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These types of omega-3s, especially from marine sources, have strong anti-inflammatory properties. That may be why moderate fish consumption that provides these healthy types of fat is associated with a decrease in heart disease risk.
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are also critical for proper brain and eye development. That means it’s even more important for women who are pregnant or intent to become pregnant to get enough of this healthy fat each week. Even throughout lactation, these omega-3s are passed to the baby and enable healthy growth and development.
How To Enjoy Them: Aim for 2-3 servings of a variety of fatty fish per week. In terms of servings, that translates to between 8 and 12 ounces of fatty fish a week. You may want to choose your sources carefully, however. Some oily fish may be high in omega-3s but are also high in mercury. Make sure you know how your fish is sourced and the mercury risk, especially if you’re pregnant.
Similar to nuts, many seeds are a good source of monounsaturated fats as well as alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also impressive sources of dietary fiber, despite their small size. Fiber keeps you feeling full and your energy levels steady. If you struggle with mid-afternoon hunger, you may want to reach for chia seeds. They’re not only packed with fiber but have also been shown to help lower blood sugar and blunt hunger.
Some seeds can even help lower your “bad” cholesterol. Flaxseeds specifically not only lower circulating cholesterol as well as “bad” LDL cholesterol, but also lower these numbers beyond the capabilities of cholesterol-lowering medications. If you’re on this type of medication, it may be worthwhile to talk to your prescribing healthcare professional about whether it’s worth adding flaxseed to your diet to control your numbers even further.
How to Enjoy Them: Add ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds to your morning oatmeal or smoothie, snack on shelled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, and top stir-fries with a sprinkle of sesame seeds for an extra nutrient boost. If you opt for flaxseed, make sure you get the ground version or grind the seeds yourself. Flaxseed is an excellent source of fiber, but in its whole form, humans have a hard time digesting it.
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