Have you seen the documentary Fed Up yet? It’s a great look at the misconceptions surrounding nutrition, especially fat, calories and sugar. In the ’80s and ’90s, we were told (among many other dubious claims) that low-fat products were the way to stay healthy and lose weight. But, as we now know, fat isn’t the enemy—it’s all about the type of fats you eat.
Types of Fats
These fats do occur naturally in trace amounts in some foods (like beef), but are generally used for frying or making heavily processed foods and should be avoided.
These animal-derived fats (which are also present in some plant-based foods) have a bad reputation, thanks in large part to the belief that saturated fats led to heart disease—thus the push for low-fat everything. That was just half the story, though: according to recent studies, saturated fats aren’t inherently evil. In fact, while they can raise bad cholesterol, they can also help raise good cholesterol and be a good source of fat-soluble vitamins like A and E. It’s when saturated fats are combined with refined carbohydrates and sweeteners (which many low-fat products add in order to retain familiar flavors) that the risk really rises. And decreasing your saturated fat intake doesn’t really do anything for you if you don’t replace them with unsaturated fats. Some foods with saturated fat, like nuts, also provide healthy unsaturated fats.
To get the most from animal-derived saturated fats, choose meat, eggs and dairy that are minimally processed and/or grass fed—or pick plant-based options like nuts, tofu, red palm oil and coconut.
Unsaturated fats are typically known as “good fats,” and there are two types: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. The typical American diet lacks these fats, though both contribute vitamin E (an antioxidant) to the diet, as well as cholesterol-regulation and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyunsaturated fats provide the skin- and heart-healthy fatty acids your body needs but can’t produce itself: omega-6 and omega-3.
10 Healthy Fat Foods to Add to Your Diet
Of course, no one can or should live on fats alone. But in tandem with a healthy lifestyle and lots of veggies, these fats are A-OK to add to your diet on the regular:
2. Coconut + Coconut Oil
Coconuts are a saturated fat, so they will raise “bad” cholesterol, but they also raise good cholesterol. Coconut oil has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal properties as well. Coconut products can make for a tasty dairy substitute, detox ingredient and cooking oil.
3. Nuts + Nut Butters
Nuts contain both saturated and unsaturated fats, with walnuts containing higher levels of polyunsaturated. (Think: healthy skin!) They’re also packed with protein, making them a satisfying snack. Top some grilled fruit (or just about any dessert) with nuts, or add nut butters to smoothies or apple slices.
4. Peanuts + Peanut Butter
Peanuts are technically legumes, not nuts, so their nutrition profile is a little different from other nuts. Peanuts are packed with protein, fiber and potassium, and peanut butter is perfect for smoothies and sauces. Make your own peanut butter in order to avoid unnecessary salt and additives.
Soybeans are a legume like peanuts, and similarly they contain both saturated and unsaturated fats, with polyunsaturated making up the majority. Soybeans (along with walnuts, flaxseed oil and canola oil) are one of the few plant sources of linolenic acid , an omega-3 fatty acid that is used to treat skin disorders and increase cardiovascular health. Soy can affect estrogen levels in the body, so proceed with caution if you have any hormonal or thyroid disruptions.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish—which is lower in saturated fats than most animal products and also contains healthy doses of unsaturated fats—at least 2 times a week. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Watch out for mercury and other environmental toxins, though: shrimp, tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are generally on the safer side, depending on the source, of course. Swordfish, king Mackerel and tilefish tend to have high levels of mercury.
8. Plant-Based Liquid Oils
Olive, peanut, sesame and canola oils contain higher levels of monounsaturated fats, while sunflower, red palm (not palm kernel), corn, soybean and flaxseed are higher in polyunsaturated. Try mixing up your oils for cooking, or making your own salad dressing with flavorful oils like olive or sesame. Watch out for oils potentially made with GMO corn or soy.
If you’re like me, you could made a meal out of olives. These briny bites can be added to salads, pasta, pizza or just eaten right out of the jar. Olives are very high in fat, but about 3/4 of that is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that is important for brain function and your immune system; they also contain a minimal amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
10. Dark Chocolate
In addition to antioxidants, high-cacao dark chocolate helps stimulate dopamine and serotonin (obviously) and is a source of healthy, plant-based monounsaturated fat—including oleic acid, like olives. Opt for dairy-free, or low-milk content, dark chocolate to minimize the amount of saturated fat you consume from chocolate.1