Are you afraid of fats? If so, you’re not alone. Fat in foods has been vilified in America for the past few decades, as low-fat and non-fat foods became the norm, and we were told that a low-fat diet would help us get the body we want. In fact, it’s one of the biggest nutrition lies that the public’s been told.
In other parts of the world, fat has always has been welcomed at the table. In the U.S.? We’re only now realizing the truth: Not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need fat — more specifically, they need healthy fats.
How Did We Get Here?
How did fats get on the naughty list to begin with? Post-World War II, research began emerging that seemed to link foods with saturated fats, like eggs and red meat, to coronary heart disease. By the 1960s, the American Heart Association had recommended that people reduce their fat intake, and in 1976, the U.S. Senate held a series of committee meetings, “Diet related to killer diseases” on the topic. Subsequent food guidelines advocated for eating less saturated fat and more carbohydrates. The war on fat had begun.
While the guidelines advocated for more carbs in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, what the average American understood was that carbs — any kind of carbs — were good (even refined carbohydrates!) while fat was bad. The food industry pounced: High-carb, low-fat foods became the norm. Grocery store shelves and refrigerators were soon lined with low- and no-fat items that were packed with sugar — because without any natural fat, a lot of favorite foods just didn’t taste good anymore. Not coincidentally, both a sugar addiction as well as an obesity epidemic in America began soon after low-fat diets became the standard recommendation.
The problem? None of the studies, linked high-fat diets to heart disease. The science just wasn’t there. In fact, numerous studies have since debunked the myth. It’s been proved there is no evidence that dietary saturated fat increases a person’s risk for coronary heart disease or
The 11 Best Healthy Fats for Your Body
Not all fats are created equal, but the ones below pack a lot of punch. From lowering bad cholesterol and helping shed excess weight to giving you shiny hair and healthy nails, your body will reap the benefits of these healthy fats.
The, benefits of avocados are so numerous that they’re one of the healthiest fruits you can consume. They’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which raise levels of good cholesterol while lowering the bad — talk about a double-whammy. Avocados are also packed with the benefits of vitamin E, which help prevent radical damage, boosts immunity and acts as an anti-aging nutrient for your skin.
Plus, it’s chock-full of healthy protein; in fact, it has more than any other fruit. For pregnant women, avocado is also one of the best foods with folate, as this vitamin can help reduce the risk of birth defects.
2. Butter & Ghee
We’re all familiar with “butter-like” substances; margarine, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and all those other “vegetable oil spreads” found in stores. But real butter — preferably raw or from grass-fed, organic sources — is what you should reach for.
Another victim of the war on fat, butter’s experiencing a comeback as a healthy fat as the benefits of butter become more widely known. The omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids found in butter help your brain function properly and improve skin health. More importantly, these two fatty acids are considered essential, meaning the body needs them but can’t produce them on its own; they must be derived from food sources. Butter’s also rich in fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals, including beneficial selenium, a powerful antioxidant.
3. Coconut Oil
One of my favorite oils because of its numerous benefits — did you know you can use coconut oil on your skin and coconut oil for your hair— the benefits of coconut oil are many. It’s rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest, not readily stored by the body as fat and small, allowing them to infuse cells with energy almost immediately.
These fatty acids also improve brain and memory function. Plus, the high amount of natural saturated fats in coconut oil mean that it increases good cholesterol and promotes heart health, while the antioxidants found in coconut oil make it an effective anti-inflammatory food which can help to reduce arthritis.
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil benefits are so profound that any diet should include it. First, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for heart health. In fact, a 2013 study found that when people supplemented a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil, it reduced the incidence of heart attack or dying of heart disease, probably due to its high levels of monounsaturated fats. 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. Since so many diseases stem from chronic inflammation, this is a biggie!
Unfortunately, buying this healthy fat isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. First, note that I recommend only extra virgin varieties of the oil. This means no chemicals are involved when the oil is refined.
Some tips for recognizing real EVOO are to beware of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter; look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council; check the harvesting date on the label; if it’s labeled as “light,” “pure” or a “blend,” it isn’t virgin quality; and finally, opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation.
EVOO isn’t recommended for cooking at high temperatures because of its low smoke point, but it’s terrific for making salad dressings or drizzling over breads or cooked foods.
5. Omega-3s from Fish
Why are omega-3 fatty acids considered essential? Because the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own. Therefore, we must rely on omega-3 foods in our diet to supply these extremely beneficial compounds.
There are actually three different types of “omega-3s”: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosatetraenoic acid). The preferred sources of omega-3s are DHA and EPA, the kinds found in seafood sources like salmon and sardines. ALA, on the other hand, is found in some plant foods, including certain nuts and seeds, as well as high-quality cuts of meat like grass-fed beef.
The human body can turn ALA into usable DHA and EPA to some degree, but this isn’t as efficient as getting DHA and EPA directly from food sources that provide it. Even after extensive research, it’s not totally clear how well ALA converts into EPA and DHA or if it has benefits on its own, but health authorities, like those at Harvard Medical School, still consider all sources of omega-3s crucial in the diet.
Historically, we’ve seen that populations that consume the most omega-3 foods, like people in Okinawa Japan, live longer and healthier lives than people who eat a standard diet low in omega-3s.
Because there is such debate over waters being contaminated with toxins and pollutants like mercury, many people find it hard to get enough omega-3s from eating fish only. This is one reason why some people prefer supplementing with fish oil in addition to eating some omega-3 foods.
6. Nuts and Seeds
A welcome addition for vegetarians and vegans, nuts and seeds are a terrific option for getting more healthy fats into your diets. While technically they’re rich in omega-3s, nuts and seeds deserve their own entry.
For starters, they’re extremely easy to incorporate into your diet; they’re affordable (buy in bulk to save!) and easily transportable, making them perfect for snacking. Aside from being a great source of healthy fats, nuts and seeds offer a wealth of benefits for our bodies. Regularly eating them can help lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels. Like other foods rich in omega-3s, nuts and seeds are also considered brain foods, thanks to their high levels of antioxidants, and are even recommended to help naturally combat depression.
The beauty of nuts and seeds is there are many varieties to choose from. When it comes to nuts, walnuts, have 5 grams of fat per serving, and almonds, which are packed with vitamin E, but there are so many nuts to choose from, that you really can’t go wrong: hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts all have their own delicious nutritional profiles. With the explosion of nut butters, it’s easier to add different types of nuts to your diet by dipping apple slices or carrot sticks in them. Look for nut butters with just one or two ingredients, the nut and salt.
For seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds are two of my favorites. They’re both high in fiber and fat, but low in carbs. Add seeds to yogurt or sprinkle in your smoothie, like this keto recipe with avocado, chia seeds and cacao.
This little wonder food ticks all the boxes. It’s an inexpensive food that’s packed with protein and a full amino acid profile. Contrary to decades of popular belief, eggs also don’t raise bad cholesterol levels. In fact, consuming benefit-rich eggs can lower cholesterol while improving heart health. The choline found in eggs is also helpful at keeping our brains in tip-top shape.
Additionally, a higher consumption of eggs can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, a variety of conditions including excess body fat, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. Having any of these conditions makes you more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. A 2016 study found that adults over 40 years old who regularly ate eggs reduced their risk of metabolic syndrome.
What can make eggs confusing are all the options. Some people advocate eating just egg whites, which is a mistake. Egg yolks are full of nutrients and healthy fat; to get the full benefits of eggs, you should be consuming it all. Additionally, free-range eggs are absolutely the way to go. While eggs can get tricky, the rule of thumb is to opt for free-range eggs. These have more vitamins, more omega-3s and a lower risk of bacteria like salmonella.