13 Healthy High-Fat Foods You Should Eat More
Fat is back
We don't have to tell you what a disaster the low-fat craze was. We all stopped eating many of our favorite foods thinking they were bad for us (welcome back, eggs and dark chocolate!) and ended up overweight, overly full of refined carbs, and sick. In the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for the first time in 35 years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services removed the limit on total fat consumption in the American diet (though they still recommend getting less than 10% of daily calories from saturated fat). In their words, evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish have protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease. They also help you absorb a host of vitamins, fill you up so you eat less, and taste good, too. Here are 13 healthy high fat foods to stock up on to celebrate.
Types of fat
Unsaturated: Liquid at room temperature and generally considered heart healthy. Found in plants like nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and seafood.
Saturated: Solid at room temperature and found in animal foods, like meat and butter, as well as coconut and palm oil. Often deemed unhealthy for your heart, but research is equivocal. "Some sources are actually good for us," says Brianna Elliott, RD, a nutritionist based in St. Paul, Minn.
Trans: Liquid fats made solid through a process called hydrogenation. Found in fried foods, baked goods, and processed snack foods. These heart-health wreckers were banned from the food supply in 2015. They'll be gone by 2018.
"What really matters is where the source of fat is coming from. The fats found in processed junk foods and store-bought baked goods aren't so good for us, while fat from more natural foods like avocados, grass-fed beef, and olives can be beneficial" says Elliott.
Olive oil is the original healthy fat. A tall body of research finds that it helps lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Most recently, Spanish researchers publishing in the journal Molecules reported that the various components of olive oil including oleic acid and secoiridoids protect your body on the cellular level to slow the aging process. "To get the most health benefits, choose extra-virgin olive oil, as it is extracted using natural methods and doesn’t go through as much processing before it reaches your plate," says Elliott. Research shows that veggies sautéed in olive oil are also richer in antioxidants than boiled ones—and they taste better too! Don't go crazy though. All fats are relatively high in calories and 1 tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories.
You may have heard your mother or grandmother describe fish as "brain food." That’s because these swimmers are brimming with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function, says Elliot. "Your brain is made up of mostly fat, so you need to consume them in order to stay sharp and healthy," she says. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 8 ounces per week to get healthy amounts of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which feed your brain and fight inflammation and chronic disease. If you're concerned about mercury, choose salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel), according to the USDA.
Avocados do more than provide the keystone ingredient for amazing guac. They also help lower inflammation, which is linked to cardiovascular disease. In a 2014 study, a team of Mexican researchers fed a group of rats too much sugar, which gave them symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including high blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. They then fed the rats avocado oil, which lowered levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in their blood, while keeping protective HDL cholesterol levels intact. "You need to consume healthy fats in order for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K—pair them with a salad so you can reap the benefits of all those veggies!" says Elliot. Keep your overall calorie intake in mind; one avocado is about 320 calories. An easy way to get a good dose is with avocado toast, which can work as a complete breakfast, snack, lunch or even an easy dinner.
Nuts are nature's most perfect portable snack. Each handful packs a powerhouse of nutrients including amino acids, vitamin E, and unsaturated fatty acids. In one long-term study published last year in the British Journal of Nutrition, eating a daily one-ounce serving of nuts was associated with a 50% lower incidence of diabetes, a 30% reduction in heart disease, and a nearly 50% lower incidence of stroke. (Note: the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council helped fund this particular study, but the general health benefits of nuts have been well established.) Before you chow down, beware the "candyfication" of nuts. Skip any that say "candied," "honeyed," or "glazed," and read ingredients lists carefully. "Make sure there aren't any added ingredients, such as sugar and other vegetable oils," Elliot says. "There is no need for oils to be added to nuts because they already have their own!"
Coconut oil used to get a bad rap because its calories come predominantly from saturated fats. Now it's receiving some well-deserved vindication, says Elliot. The main type of saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, "which is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties," says Elliot. "Coconut oil is also unique from other sources of saturated fats because it contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are metabolized differently—they go straight from the liver to the digestive tract and can then be used as a quick source of energy rather than getting stored. It's also a very stable fat and is great for cooking with high temperatures." For a tasty treat whip up a coconut oil latte!
For years, many of us reserved chocolate for an occasional indulgence. Now we know that a daily chunk of dark chocolate, which is a source of healthy fats, actually protects the heart. Researchers from Louisiana State University reported that when you eat dark chocolate, good gut microbes like Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria feast on it and they grow and ferment it, which produces anti-inflammatory compounds that protect your cardiovascular health. The sweet may also keep you slim. One study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that folks who eat chocolate five times a week have a lower BMI and are about 6 pounds lighter than those who don’t eat any.
About 70% of the fat in Greek yogurt is saturated, but you may notice about a gram of trans fat on the label. Not to worry: unless you see partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list (which is unlikely), then it's a naturally occurring type of trans fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). "While man-made trans fats are very unhealthy, ruminant trans fats like CLA may help to protect against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer," Elliot explains. "To get the most bang for your buck when it comes to yogurt, aim for grass-fed, full-fat yogurt. You'll also want to make sure to choose plain yogurt because flavored yogurts are typically full of added sugars and artificial sweeteners." The new guidelines recommend choosing low fat or fat free dairy, including milk, when possible.