As times change, so do new ways of thinking. With that, many new philosophies surrounding food and diet culture emerge. One of those beliefs use to be that a high-fat diet was the cause of many diet-related diseases such as heart disease. However, fats are a really important component of a healthy diet.
Fats are generally separated into two groups: saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperatures such as butter, most dairy products, and marbling you see in red meats.
Unsaturated fats are those that are liquid at room temperatures such as olive, safflower, and sunflower oil. High concentrations of unsaturated fats are also found in olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
According to the American Heart Association and USDA 2020-2025 American guidelines, saturated fats should make up less than 10% of your total intake. The reason for limiting saturated fats in the diet is because diets high in saturated fat can increase the risk for heart disease by raising "bad" or LDL cholesterol. However, this notion has been challenged throughout the years to determine if the type of saturated fat is more impactful versus all saturated fats themselves.
For this reason, saturated fats have been labeled as "bad fats". And research has shown that replacing intake of saturated fats with unsaturated fats, or "healthy" fats can improve good cholesterol and help lower bad cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats incur many health benefits such as decreasing inflammation and improving lipid profiles and cholesterol levels — all of which promote longevity and decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease.
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The Two Kinds of Unsaturated Fats
There are two kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The difference is merely in the number of double bonds they have in their structure. Monounsaturated fats can be found in avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, and olive oils.
Polyunsaturated fats can be found in sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. Within polyunsaturated fats also exist two essential fats: omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat responsible for decreasing inflammation within the body and making up hormone-like substances that improve blood flow.
Omega 6 fatty acids are also a class of polyunsaturated fats responsible for making up precursors to processes involved in inflammatory responses. This does not mean omega 6 fatty acids should be avoided!
Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential for proper health and development. They are essential because we MUST consume these fat sources in our diet. The human body is unable to synthesize these fats on its own.
So, what are 10 foods that are high in healthy fats? Here’s a rundown of some examples you can fold into your daily food intake.
10 Healthy Fats to Include in Your Diet
1. Mackerel: Mackerel is a very fatty fish, but one of the richest sources of omega 3's. 3.5 ounces or 100g contains close to 20g of protein and is only 190 calories.
2. Salmon: Salmon is another very rich source of omega 3's but is also an excellent source of Vitamin D.
3. Avocado: Avocados are a great source of healthy fats as they are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Avocados are also an excellent source of potassium, fiber, b-vitamins, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
4. Macadamia nuts: Macadamia nuts are also a very rich source of monounsaturated fats. These nuts are also low in sodium and carbohydrates, making them a fan favorite for healthy fat.
5. Eggs: In the past eggs have been bashed for their high cholesterol and fat content. However, the majority of fat in eggs is unsaturated. Eggs are the best quality protein source you can consume when it comes to choosing animal-based proteins.
Also, there have been many studies to show that consumption of whole eggs does not negatively impact cholesterol levels as once believed. Eggs are very rich in many essential vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy diet.
6. Avocado Oil: This oil is super high in monounsaturated fats but has a higher smoking point than olive oil. This makes it a better option when cooking or roasting foods at very high heat.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Another oil-rich in monounsaturated fats. 1 tablespoon contains 119 calories, 13.5g fat in which 9.9g of that fat is monounsaturated fatty acids.
8. Greek Yogurt (Full Fat): While dairy products typically contain saturated fats, this is a saturated fat that should be consumed in the diet! The elimination of fat from products generally indicates that the product was replaced with sugar to maintain flavor. Therefore, we want to choose full-fat Greek yogurt! Not only is this yogurt a great source of calcium, but 5oz contains 14g of protein as well!
9. Grass-Fed Milk 2%: Milk contains many essential vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy diet. Not only is it a rich source of calcium, but it also contains immunoglobulins responsible for modulating inflammatory and immune properties — making it a great recovery drink!
Choosing grass-fed can be a way to ensure you're consuming more Omega 3's in your diet. Grass-fed milk has been shown to have the highest omega 3 content compared to organic & conventional sources of milk (5,6).
10. Hemp Seeds: Hemp seeds are not only rich sources of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, but they are also considered a complete protein! Meaning they contain all the essential amino acids needed to build & repair new tissues. 1 tablespoon contains 57 calories, 4g of fat, and 3g of protein.
Things to Consider
As you can see, fats are essential to a healthy diet. Especially in terms of maintaining or losing weight.
Fats are the densest macronutrient, meaning they can increase satiation. 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. Comparatively, carbohydrates and proteins only contain 4 calories per 1 gram. Therefore, the inclusion of more healthy fats can help keep you full and from overindulging at mealtimes.
Additionally, fats high in omega 3's, such as salmon, can help decrease inflammation — a major contributor to weight gain and several metabolic diseases.
However, since fats are the densest macronutrient, a small amount can contain many calories. So while healthy fats are important to aid in weight loss and maintaining a healthy diet, they should be limited in some capacity as to not add excessive calories to your daily intake. According to the Institute of Medicine, fats should make up between 20-35% of your diet. For someone consuming 2000 calories per day, that would equate to 45-78g of fat per day.
Wrapping It All Up
What if you are consuming a keto diet? A ketogenic diet is when 75-80% of your caloric intake comes from fat and carbohydrates are limited to about 50g per day. This leads to limited food choices, which are very high in fats.
To avoid issues such as increased cholesterol and triglycerides, it would be recommended to make most fat intake unsaturated fats. Increased consumption of high-fat fishes such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados will have higher unsaturated fat contents which can help decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
Overall, fats are a necessary component of a healthy diet. They are typically rich in essential vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. They also make up all the cell membranes in our body, are responsible for synthesizing hormones, protecting our organs, and helping transport nutrients throughout the body.