It’s hard to shake a bad reputation — something fat knows all too well. Dietary fats have been demonized despite years of scientific research proving they’re a necessary part of a healthy diet.
The truth? Fats help you feel satisfied. Fats help your body better absorb some nutrients. And some fats — like omega-3 fatty acids — even lower your risk of heart disease, keep your brain in tip-top shape, and fight disease-causing inflammation.
Keep scrolling for the deets on body-nourishing fats, plus the healthy fats and fatty foods that belong on your grocery list.
What are healthy fats?
The healthiest type of fat is unsaturated fat, which includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have a reputation for lowering your risk of disease instead of clogging your arteries.
Folks love to cut out fat when they’re trying to get healthy. But slashing an entire macronutrient isn’t stellar. Let’s bust some of the most common myths about fat in food.
Myth 1: Low fat = healthy
Au contraire! Nutrition is a smidge more complicated than that.
Recent findings suggest that restricting calories with a low fat *or* high fat diet can lead to weight loss. The research shows that a low fat diet might lead to more significant body fat loss, but it could also raise your blood sugar — a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
So, is high fat or low fat healthier? That depends on your individual health needs and goals and what kind of fat you’re noshing on (more on that later). What we *do* know is that fat ≠ the enemy.
Myth 2: All fats are created equal
If you’ve fallen for this myth, you’re not alone. A 2017 research review found that most folks oversimplify the nutritional value of fats.
All fats offer 9 calories per gram. But that doesn’t mean they’re equal in the health department. Go ahead and punch down trans fat, but then show some love to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).
Trends like keto and the Mediterranean diet are based on the fact that some fats are necessary and nourishing.
Myth 3: Eating fat will make you fat
We kinda covered this already, but fat can be healthy. Fats fill you up *way* faster than carbs. And your body needs fat to properly absorb certain vitamins and minerals.
If you stick to eating fat in moderation — the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fats — the fat in your food should not trigger weight gain. But you know what will? A calorie (not fat) surplus.
The American Heart Association has a clear stance: Artificial trans fat, hydrogenated oils, and tropical oils are no bueno for your body. Saturated fat is OK in small amounts, but it could increase your risk of heart disease.
But there’s one type of fat your body loves: unsaturated. Specifically PUFAs (like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) and MUFAs.
So glad you asked! Here’s a quick list of a few (keep scrolling for the deets):
- dark chocolate
- whole eggs
- fatty fish
- chia seeds
- extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- full-fat yogurt
Just one more reason to love that avo toast, right? About 67 percent of an avocado is luscious, body-loving fat.
Avocados are specifically full of a MUFA called oleic acid. Research suggests that oleic acid can help prevent obesity and possibly dial down your risk of some diseases.
An ounce of 60 to 69 percent cacao dark chocolate will net you nearly 11 grams of fat. But what makes this stuff so great is the way the fat serves as a medium for brain-boosting nutrients like flavanols, plus an itty-bitty energy boost from caffeine.
Research suggests that dark chocolate could lower your risk of heart disease *and* memory problems later in life.
For the best health benefits, enjoy a high quality dark chocolate with less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving.
Eggs get a bad rap sometimes, but they’re perfect little nuggets of nutrition.
A single cooked egg has 4.76 grams of all-natural fat. The fat comes with a heaping helping of baby-friendly choline, muscle-friendly protein, and heart-friendly vitamin B2 (aka riboflavin).
Is it starting to click that healthy fats often act as the delivery agent for all kinds of important vitamins and minerals? In addition to shuttling nourishment straight to your bod, those fats help you feel satisfied. #HangryNoMore
Oh, hey there, omega-3 fatty acids!
Your body will *love* you for netting a couple servings of heart-healthy fatty fish each week. Some delicious options:
- fresh tuna
Just a 3.75-ounce tin of sardines contains 903 milligrams of enriching omega-3s that are great for your brain and heart.
Nuts are the perfect snack. They’re chockablock with energizing unsaturated fats (the good kind, remember?). That’s probably why so many folks reach for trail mix whether they’re taking an amble around the local lake or climbing an actual summit.
If you’re stuck in a peanut rut, try these:
- macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
Chia seeds pack a whole lot of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids in a teensy package. According to research from 2002, the oil in chia seeds is made up of 25 percent omega-3s and 75 percent omega-6s. This is a super-healthy balance for fatty acids.
It’s easy to add chia seeds to your diet too. Whip up some chia seed pudding, bake them into muffins, or stir some into your water.
Like chia seeds, flaxseed is coming in hot with fiber and healthy fats. A 20-gram portion (2 tablespoons) of flaxseed contains 8 grams of fat to boost your brainpower and about 5 grams of fiber to keep your intestines happy.
The healthy fatty acids in flaxseed need to be “unlocked” to allow your body to absorb them. That’s why most folks opt for flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) mixed into baked goods, sprinkled on top of cereal, or blended into a morning smoothie.
EVOO contains 12 grams of unsaturated fat (and just 2 grams of saturated fat) per tablespoon. That’s an incredible win for #TeamHealthyFats.
While there are all kinds of reasons to choose one type of cooking oil over another, you can rest easy knowing that your EVOO is brimming with the kind of fat that’s good for your ticker.
You already know about the good, good bacteria in yogurt (probiotics FTW!). But did you know that full-fat natural or Greek yogurt also has 8 grams of velvety fat per cup? Though the fat in yogurt is saturated, research suggests that saturated fat from dairy doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. #Winning!
Cashing in on the health perks of yogurt is simple: Opt for full-fat yogurt with no added sugar. Sweeten it with fresh fruit instead! Now grab a spoon and enjoy.
Fat is a necessary part of any healthy diet. It’s good for your heart, brain, and more. But not all fats are created equal. Saturated fat is A-OK in moderation, but trans fat isn’t great (fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has nixed artificial trans fats anyway).
Whenever possible, choose foods with unsaturated fats. You’ll find unsaturated fats in lots of healthy snacks, such as full-fat yogurt and dark chocolate.