Many consider fat to be a dietary enemy, but if you pick the right kind of fat, it can do wonders for heart health. Many people don't know how to choose healthy fats, so they replace it with refined carbs, which makes them miss out on the benefits that healthy fats provide. Refined carbs like white bread can increase triglyceride levels, which promote cardiovascular disease.
Make sure you get 20%-35% of your calories from healthy fats. In order to ensure your intake from good fats, you must learn which types of fats will benefit you, and which types of fats you need to avoid in order to protect your health. So, here’s a quick guide to fats and 10 dietary sources of healthy fats for you to improve your nutrition, and overall health.
Polyunsaturated fats can lower your total cholesterol level, so it's safe to aim at getting more of it into your diet. Found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and fatty fish, this category of fats contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids because your body doesn't produce them, and you have to take them from your food instead.
Many avoid this category of fats, because it increases your total and LDL cholesterol levels, and increases the risk for type 2 diabetes. So, make sure you limit your intake of saturated fat. This can be found in meats, seafood, dairy products, and plant foods such as palm and coconut oil. Both animal and plant-based saturated fats carry the same risks, so there's no difference. Make sure you choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products to benefit from their key nutrients while avoiding their saturated fat. No more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fat. So, if you eat 2000 calories a day, make sure your saturated fat intake is below 22 grams.
While you need to seriously limit your intake of saturated fats, you should increase your intake of unsaturated fats. Good unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, while saturated fats are solid. Replace your solids with liquids. For example, replace butter with olive oil and red meat with seafood. Of course, seafood contains saturated fat, but significantly less than red meat does.
Increase your intake of these healthy fats which raise your good cholesterol level and lower your LDL level. Take your monounsaturated fats from canola, olive, and peanut oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados. While unsalted nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat, they're high in calories. Sprinkle them on your salads or yogurt to avoid eating a 170 calorie packed handful of them.
Try to significantly reduce or totally eliminate your intake of trans fats. These are liquid oils packed with hydrogen, which are solid at room temperature. These fats are used in most processed and fried foods. And they're very unhealthy: they increase your LDL and total cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol levels. Make sure you check the label of your processed foods and if you see the words "partially hydrogenated, shortening, hydrogenated", know that they contain trans fat, and you might want to avoid them.
There is good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). To keep the bad cholesterol in check, avoid saturated and trans fats. So, eating an egg (which contains 200 mg of cholesterol) won't kill you. For those with normal cholesterol levels, the daily recommended intake is no more than 300 mg per day, while those with a high risk of heart disease should focus on eating less than 200 mg per day.
Omega-3 fatty acids
All health enthusiasts love omega-3s because of their many health benefits such as reducing inflammation, preventing blood clotting, lowering blood pressure and triglycerides levels. Soy, walnuts, some vegetable oils, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3s. Aim for 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week.
10 Dietary Sources of Healthy Fats
One avocado contains about 23 g of fat, which is primarily monounsaturated fat. Additionally, the same avocado will provide you with 40% of your daily recommended intake of fiber. It is cholesterol-free and an excellent source of lutein, which aids vision. However, it is quite high in calories, so stick to 1/4 of an avocado at a time.
Walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, and cashews are packed with healthy fats. Walnuts are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and a handful per day can lower your bad cholesterol levels and improve your blood vessel function. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, and pistachios in lutein and zeaxanthin – which are great for eye health. You only need 1/4 cup serving per day to enjoy the many health benefits these nuts have.
Just one cup of black olives contains 15 g of fat, which is primarily monounsaturated. All olive varieties have hydroxytyrosol, which is a phytonutrient that is strongly connected to cancer prevention and plays a key role in reducing bone loss. Olives are the perfect snack, not just because of their healthy fat contents, but also because it deals with allergies and inflammatory conditions. However, they can be quite high in sodium, so stick to 5-10 olives per serving.
4. Olive oil
It makes sense to include olive oil here after explaining the many health benefits olives have. Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats and it's perfect to use as cooking oil or salad dressing. Just one tablespoon of olive oil has 14 g of fat, so don't be too heavy-handed with it.
On cup of flaxseed has 48 g of health, unsaturated fat. And you only need 1 or 2 tablespoons of it to reap the benefits. Flaxseed is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, it is a rich source of lignans – which contains plant estrogen and antioxidant properties tied to cancer prevention. It is also a good source of both insoluble and soluble fiber, which not only helps you feel fuller for longer, but it also reduces your cholesterol levels and promotes heart health.
Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are an excellent way to ensure your essential fat intake and boost your heart health. However, make sure you keep your intake under control and aim for no more than 12 ounces of fish per week, in order to avoid overexposure to mercury – which can be traced in small amounts in seafood.
7. Dark chocolate
One ounce of dark chocolate contains about 9 g of fat. While it is half saturated, it contains many healthy fats and nutrients like vitamins A, B, and E, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and flavonoids. The same 1-ounce portion contains 3 g of fiber as well, which is great for your overall health. Make sure your choice of dark chocolate has a cocoa content of at least 70% for the highest level of plant-based antioxidants.
Edamame soybeans are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and rich in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They play important roles in skin and bone health, proper lung function, and they help strengthen your immune system. They are very filling and easy to puree it into your hummus, for more flavor and health benefits.
9. Sunflower seeds
Just a small handful of sunflower seeds contains a huge dose of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They reduce the risk of heart disease, lower high blood pressure, and its high antioxidant content helps prevent cancer. Eat a small handful or sprinkle a few over your salads to reap the benefits.
10. Chia seeds
Small but might, these seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and essential minerals. They promote weight-loss and heart-health. Chia seeds are also very versatile, so you can make chia parfaits, puddings, or sprinkle them over your salads for a delicious health boost.
Dietary fats are essential for your overall health. They give your body energy, support cell growth, protect your organs, and keep your body warm. They also help your body absorb certain nutrients and produce important hormones. So you definitely need fats for good health. Remember: increase your intake of polyunsaturated, unsaturated, and monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and decrease your intake of saturated and trans fats and cholesterol.
Simply incorporate some fish, vegetable oils, and nuts into your diet to ensure your daily recommended intake of healthy fats. Eggs and dairy are other dietary sources worth mentioning, just don't go overboard with your intake. As long as you control your portions and choose the healthy fats, you can make no mistakes and you will reap all the health benefits of good fats!