Healthy fats foods are not something to shy away from. The body needs a certain amount of fat from the diet to aid hormone function, memory, and the absorption of specific nutrients.
Healthy high-fat foods are a wonderful way to incorporate more flavor, satisfaction, and nutrition into your meals and snacks. This macronutrient rocks for a few reasons. Fat makes food taste better by creating a creamy mouthfeel and intensifying flavors, as SELF previously reported. It also provides you with energy, helps keep you fuller longer, and plays a vital role in numerous body functions and processes. A lot of naturally high-fat foods are also rich in other nutrients, like fiber, protein, and a range of vitamins and minerals. You might be wondering what healthy high-fat foods are, exactly, and what ones you can include more of in your diet.
Including healthful fats in a meal also creates a sense of fullness, slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, and adds flavor to food.
“Bad” fats, such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, an increased risk of certain diseases, and so forth. But “good” fats such as unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
By understanding the difference between good and bad fats and how to include more healthy fat in your diet, you can improve how well you think and feel, boost your energy, and even trim your waistline.
What We Mean by Healthy-Fat Foods.
It can be dicey to divide foods into discrete categories of “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Our tendency to label foods this way is a practice supported by diet culture as much as (or more than) science, and generally speaking, all foods can have a place in a varied, balanced diet. Also, like many topics in nutrition, the research into the effects of the various types of fats on our health is evolving, and sometimes a source of disagreement among experts. That said, the phrase healthy fats is generally used to refer to unsaturated fats. There are two types—here’s a quick rundown on each one:
The key to reaping these benefits is identifying the good fats from the bad fats. A fat generally is categorized as “good” if it is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. The monounsaturated variety is particularly favored for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids similarly are also healthy. They promote cell growth and brain function while also lowering levels of bad cholesterol.
Nutritionists and doctors agree that trans fats are the ones that should be avoided. Any food label that includes the words “partially hydrogenated oils” contains trans fat. People who consume too much trans fat put themselves at risk for stroke, heart attack, and diabetes. Additionally, heart experts recommend that people generally avoid saturated fats as they are known to increase levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol increases your risk for stroke and heart disease, which is why the American Heart Association recommends limiting one’s daily saturated fat consumption to between 5-6% of total caloric intake.
Monounsaturated fats: “These are among the healthiest of all fats,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF. Monounsaturated fats help develop and maintain your cells, and can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They can be found in foods like olive oil, nuts, and avocados, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Polyunsaturated fats: The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fats that our bodies cannot make on their own but need for many essential functions, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially, are beneficial for heart health, including reducing blood pressure and decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Omega-3s are mostly found in foods like fish, nuts, and seeds. “Other polyunsaturated fats [omega-6s] can be found in certain plant-based oils,” Hunnes adds.
Why You Need Healthy Fat in Your Diet
Fats are important for cellular and hormonal health, and unlike carbohydrates and protein, fats also provide our bodies with a layer of protection, literally insulating our organs and also helping keep a normal body core temperature.
Fats also help us digest important fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K that keep our brains, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin, and nails healthy.
Fat provides the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages through our body quickly via hormones.
Fat also acts as a slower release source of energy for our bodies. Think of fat as being a reserve or our long-term source of energy that sticks around the longest.
It’s also what helps keep you fuller longer because it takes longer to digest. Eating fats with each meal can support hormones related to your hunger, for example, eating omega-3 fats can help lower fasting insulin levels, and eating fat releases CCK or cholecystokinin which is a satiety hormone made in your gut.
Have you ever made a salad yourself with just lettuce and low-fat dressing and a few hours later you were starving, but when you make a salad as an entree with lots of foods like protein, other veggies, and dressing and you’re nice and full?
That’s because those entree salads usually include all five elements of the foundational five (protein, healthy fats, the flavor factor, and both non starchy and starchy carbohydrates) including a delicious olive oil dressing.
Those are just a few of the reasons healthy fats are so important to eat on a daily basis.
How Much Healthy Fat Should I Eat in a Day?
By now, I’m sure you may be wondering, ok, I know why I need healthy fats and where to get them, but how much should I include in my day?
This is one of the most popular questions I get asked and this is something that I cover in much more detail inside of my membership.
The exact amount depends on your lifestyle, your health and fitness goals, your digestion, activity level, and genetics.
But a general rule of thumb is that a serving of healthy fats is about 1 tablespoon or one ounce, which is roughly the length of your thumb for a quick visual.
If you get healthy fats at every meal and use that serving size as a rule of thumb to find your unique portion size by checking in with your hunger and satiety, then that’s a great place to start.
Healthy High-Fat Foods
One 201 gram (g)Trusted Source avocado contains approximately 29 grams (g) of fat and 322 calories. It is high in a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid, which is believed to provide several health benefits.
ResearchTrusted Source suggests that oleic acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and may play a roleTrusted Source in cancer prevention. Studies on animals indicateTrusted Source that avocado oil protects against heart disease and diabetes.
Avocados are high in fiber, with one fruit providing 13.5 gTrusted Source of the recommended 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males per day. Avocados also contain a substance called lutein, which may be necessary for eye health and are a rich source of potassium.
How can I add avocado to my diet?
Use avocado in salads or to replace less healthful saturated fats, such as mayonnaise and butter.
The scoop: With 21 grams of fat in a 1-oz. serving, walnuts are a fantastic source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They’re also rich in the minerals manganese and copper. (They also happen to taste delicious, so they’re even more deserving of a spot on this list.)
Try it: Sprinkle chopped walnuts on a salad or bowl of cereal or oatmeal. Or if you’re feeling crafty, try making it into a tasty nut butter.
Red meat provides us with healthy fats, in particular, conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA—the trans fat that actually helps improve heart health and reduce belly fat—and stearic acid, a saturated fat that actually reduces LDL cholesterol. But grass-fed beef is even better than what you’ve traditionally been grabbing. In fact, a study in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed beef is higher in CLA, stearic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid (because grass contains ALA and corn does not), and lower in unhealthy palmitic acid, than conventionally raised beef. And when it comes to your waistline, grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat.
This is one of the most popular good sources of fat. Of course, it pays to keep moderation in mind.
Experts recommend eating about one ounce of dark chocolate a day to derive health benefits. In addition to its healthy fat content, dark chocolate also is loaded with vitamins A, B and E. Also present are calcium, potassium, iron and plant-based antioxidants called flavonoids.
The upshot is that dark chocolate improves brain function and heart health while lessening inflammation. Be sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao content to get the best results.
One large egg provides 5 grams of fat, with the bulk (2.7 g) being unsaturated. Eggs are also rich in protein, the essential nutrients vitamins A, D, and B12, and brain-boosting choline, which plays a role in memory and mood. Eggs are naturally high in cholesterol, but for most healthy people, that’s not a concern. Some simple cooking hacks for eggs can help ensure you get the most from your dozen.
Although they are small in size, chia seeds are rich in several nutrients. One ounce (oz) of the seeds contains 8.71 gTrusted Source of fat, much of which is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are, in fact, one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3.
Omega-3 can relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and reduce triglycerides in the blood, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative HealthTrusted Source.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source suggests that chia seed flour can lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
Chia seeds also provide antioxidants, fiber, protein, iron, and calcium.
How can I add chia seeds to my diet?
Use chia seeds in smoothies, soak them overnight for a ready-made breakfast, or mix them with water to make a vegan egg-replacement in cooking.
The scoop: Nuts in general are packed with fat. While it’s hard to go wrong with any kind, we’re big fans of almonds, which have 15 grams of fat in a 1-oz. serving (about 22 nuts) and are rich in vitamin E.
Try it: Raw or roasted, salted or unsalted, plain or flavored—there are a lot of great almond options at the supermarket. Enjoy a big handful on their own or in trail mix, cereal, and salads.
Coconut is high in saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that battles bacteria, improves cholesterol scores, and, as a Journal of Nutrition study found, increases the 24-hour energy expenditure in humans by as much as 5 percent. And get this: A study published in Lipids found that dietary supplementation of coconut oil actually reduced abdominal fat. Sprinkle unsweetened flakes over yogurt or use coconut oil in a stir-fry to start whittling your waist. Need more reasons to get coconut in your diet? Check out these benefits of coconut oil.
Many people use olive oil for cooking or as an ingredient in salad dressings and sauces. That’s great because this oil is filled with healthy monounsaturated fats.
Use olive oil in moderation, and try to stick with genuine, extra virgin olive oil. These products tend to be more expensive, but the cheaper knock-offs don’t have the same nutritional value. Look for products labeled by the International Olive Oil Council to be sure.
Salmon, cod, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and may protect the heart. In a research review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating one or two servings of fatty fish a week was associated with a 36% lower risk of dying of heart disease. A few simple recipes can help you get more seafood into your regular rotation.
Flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids and a healthful dose of fiber at the same time. Each 2-tablespoonTrusted Source serving contains almost 9 g of fat, which is almost entirely unsaturated, and 5.6 g fiber.
The fiber content can increase the feeling of fullness and may reduce cholesterol. Flaxseeds are also very rich in lignans, a type of plant compound that has estrogen and antioxidant effects.
ResearchTrusted Source suggests that high intakes of dietary lignans may decrease cardiovascular disease risk in some people, but more research is needed to confirm it.
How can I add flaxseeds to my diet?
Blend flaxseeds into a smoothie, sprinkle them on yogurt or oatmeal or use them in baked goods for a nutty flavor.
Nut and Seed Butters
The scoop: A possibly even tastier way to get all the fatty goodness of nuts may be from a nut or seed butter. Beyond peanut butter, try almond, cashew, or sunflower seed butter for a plant-based dose of creamy fat (plus fiber and protein). For example, there are 16 grams of fat in two tablespoons of both PB and sunflower seed butter.
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.
Most people are surprised to discover that cheese is one of the best healthy fat foods. It’s packed with vitamin B12, calcium, selenium and wonderful fatty acids that help fight off type-2 diabetes. Just a few ounces a day can reap big benefits.
Tofu is a complete plant protein and a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 100 gTrusted Source serving of firm tofu provides just over 4 g of fat. This amount of tofu also provides one-quarter of a person’s daily calcium intake, along with 11 g of protein.
How can I add tofu to my diet?
Replace red meat with tofu in many meals to reduce saturated fat intake. Also, use tofu to increase the protein content of vegetarian stir-fries and curries.
The scoop: Tuna also packs a high amount of healthy fats and omega-3s. We’re talking about both the cheap and conveniently canned stuff (about 5 grams in one regular can), and the kind you find at your favorite Japanese spot (about 5 grams in 3 oz., cooked).
Try it: There are lots of ways to get this fatty fish in your diet—try seared tuna steaks, tuna burgers, tuna salad on a sandwich or bed of lettuce, or tuna casserole.
Heavy Cream and Milk
Got fat? While full-fat dairy packs more calories, it’s also more filling. That may help explain why a 2013 study review in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat the fatty stuff are less likely to suffer from obesity than those who try and skip the calories and fat with low-fat dairy. The study authors also found no ties between full-fat dairy and heart disease or diabetes. Ironically, some acids in milk fat—ones you don’t get from zero-fat varieties—may crank up your body’s calorie-burning centers, says study coauthor Mario Kratz, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington.
So pour some heavy cream in your next cup o’ joe. “Heavy cream is a healthy fat that helps keep your blood sugar stable between meals and snacks, which means consistent energy and brain power—not to mention it makes your coffee taste decadent!” says nutritionist Cassie Bjork, RD, LD.
Full-fat natural yogurt contains good probiotic bacteria to support gut function. Regularly eating yogurt may reduce weight gain and obesity and improve heart health, according to observational studiesTrusted Source.
Research published in 2016 found that consuming yogurt five or more times a week may reduce high blood pressure in women by 20 percent.
Choose full-fat natural or Greek yogurt and avoid those that have added sugar.
How can I add yogurt to my diet?
Enjoy yogurt with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit as a healthful breakfast, snack, or dessert.
he scoop: Hi, hello, since tofu’s on the list, we clearly can’t leave out the plant that is used to make it! With 4.5 grams of fat in a half cup of shelled edamame, soybeans are also a great source of plant-based protein (9 grams a serving) and fiber (4 grams a serving).
Try it: Buy them frozen, in the pod or pre-shelled, and enjoy them boiled and salted as a tasty and filling snack, or purée them into a green-hued twist on your usual hummus. Here are tons of other ways to ramp up your edamame consumption. Or buy some roasted edamame for a snack.
Canola oil, derived from the seeds of a plant in the broccoli family, has a near-perfect 2.5:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. According to a study review published in Experimental Biology and Medicine, people who achieve a dietary ratio similar to this have been able to battle cancer, arthritis, and asthma more effectively. The neutral oil is also rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid that may play a role in weight maintenance, according to a recent study.
The scoop: A 2-tablespoon serving of these flavorful, crunchy little guys delivers about 14 grams of fat, along with 6 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber.
Try it: Sprinkle raw or roasted sunflower seeds on top of your salad, try them in a batch of trail mix, or toss back a handful along with a piece of fruit for a quick snack.
You read that right. Even bacon has healthy fats! We recommend going with old school, full-fat pork. While opting for turkey bacon will save you about 13 calories and a gram of fat per slice, it also adds sodium to your plate—which can lead to high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your breakfast plate, serving size matters, so don’t pig out. A few slices are all you need.
Tips for Adding More Healthy Fats to Your Diet
nstead of obsessively counting fat grams, aim for a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans, with two or more weekly servings of fatty fish, moderate amounts of dairy, small amounts of red meat, and only occasional fried or processed meals.
This might mean replacing fried chicken with grilled chicken, swapping out some of the red meat you eat with other sources of protein such as fish, chicken, or beans, or using olive oil rather than butter. Following a Mediterranean diet can also help ensure you’re getting enough good fats in your diet and limiting the bad ones.
Limit your intake of saturated fats by replacing some of the red meat you eat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish, and switching from whole milk dairy to lower fat versions. But don’t make the mistake of replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
Eat omega-3 fats every day. Include a variety of fish sources as well as plant sources such as walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
Cook with olive oil. Use olive oil for stovetop cooking rather than butter, stick margarine, or lard. For baking, try canola oil.
Eat more avocados. Try them in sandwiches or salads or make guacamole. Along with being loaded with heart- and brain-healthy fats, they make for a filling meal.
Reach for the nuts. You can add nuts to vegetable dishes, use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish, or make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Snack on olives. Olives are high in healthy monounsaturated fats and make for a low-calorie snack. Try them plain or make a tapenade for dipping.
Dress your own salad. Commercial salad dressings are often high in unhealthy fat or added sugars. Create your own healthy dressings with olive, flaxseed, or sesame oils.