Many of us have grown up thinking that fat is bad for us and that eating fat can make us fat and cause heart disease. Especially those of us who grew up in the 80's and 90's when high carb, low-fat was all the rage and we consumed copious amounts of sugary foods thinking they were healthy because they were fat-free. Ugh! Remember Snackwells? God help us... The truth is, the right fats can help us:
- Feel more satisfied after a meal
- Lower our risk of heart disease
- Improve the way we absorb nutrition and fat-soluble vitamins and minerals
- Get more antioxidants into our daily diet
- Burn fat and lose weight
But all fats are NOT created equal! The real challenge is understanding which fats are good for us, and which aren’t. So let’s make it easy:
- The worst fats are trans fats, like the ones in margarine and donuts. Trans fats include anything "hydrogenated" and are often found in processed foods because they increase shelf life. Be careful not to overheat your healthy oils because that creates trans fats.
- Next on the bad fats list are refined vegetable oils like canola, soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, safflower, peanut, and corn oil. These are widely used in restaurants because they are cheap and can be used at high heats, so if you eat out a lot, you're getting a hefty dose of these inflammatory oils.
- The best fats are unrefined, minimally processed, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids as well as monounsaturated fats like the ones in salmon and olive oil. Another reason to love omega-3s? They reduce inflammation and help us metabolize fat. See the list of other healthy fats below.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Eat Fat, Get Thin, who has dedicated his life to the science of healthy nutrition, healthy fats are not the enemy; “sugar, refined carbs and foods that are highly processed (which he refers to as ‘the white menace’) are the real causes of weight gain, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.” I talk more about how fat was vilified by the sugar industry in this article if you want to learn more.
So what fats should we eat? Below is a list of healthy fats to eat in balance with plenty of fresh vegetables, clean protein, and nutrient-dense carbs in your daily diet.
• Avocado – Avocados are packed with healthy monounsaturated fats that contain oleic acid, which can help you feel fuller, longer. Avocados are also a healthy source of protein and fiber and are just plain delicious. Try blending half an avocado on your morning smoothie for an extra creamy treat.
• Almonds & Almond Butter – Almonds are a good source of polyunsaturated fats, which can reduce fat storage and improve the way your body metabolizes insulin. Almond butter provides many of the same nutrients; just make sure that the nut butter you choose does not contain sugar or trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oil). That’s why it’s important to read the ingredients label!
• Walnuts and Walnut Oil – Walnuts are the top nut for brain health (they even look like the brain!). They are also the poster child for polyunsaturated fat – they contain 13 grams per one-ounce serving. They also have the most omega-3s of all the nuts. Try them as toppers to salads and oatmeal. Pecans and macadamias are great nut choices too, especially if you're on a ketogenic diet!
• Olive Oil – Whether you cook with it (use with no heat or low heat only) or use it in dressings and dips, olive oil contains cancer-fighting polyphenols and monounsaturated fats, including oleic acid, which helps protect the heart. In order to avoid fake or adulterated olive oil, look or organic, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil which is PGI Certified by the European Union.
• Coconut Oil – This is a well-rounded oil, and YES! It is still healthy, so don't believe the recent scaremongering information from the American Heart Association. Why not? Because the AHA is funded by the very industries who don't want you consuming coconut oil. This article by Dr. Mark Hyman sums it up beautifully. Coconut oil contains MCT (medium chain triglycerides), praised for boosting metabolism and improving brain function, as well as lauric acid, which supports healthy immune system function. Studies also show that coconut oil, when part of a regular diet, can raise HDL (the good cholesterol) and lower the total cholesterol to HDL ratio -- which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease.
• Wild Caught Salmon – Wild salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood pressure, protect your heart against disease, and help decrease triglyceride levels. Eat wild salmon just once a week (more can increase your risk of mercury toxicity) and you’ll get half the omega-3s recommended by the American Heart Association. Ask for it by name – wild salmon is a much better choice than farmed Atlantic salmon.
• Eggs – Another myth-buster: the cholesterol in eggs doesn’t cause high cholesterol in people! The egg white is a good source of protein, but the real star is the yolk and its monounsaturated fat. Recent studies show that the healthy fat in egg yolks actually helps reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). And here’s some more good news. Eggs are the top source of choline – which is important for brain health and helps reduce your body’s tendency to store fat around your liver. Just make sure to buy organic, pasture-raised eggs. You'll spend more, but the tastes and health benefits are worth it.
• Grass-fed Lamb, Beef and Buffalo - That's right, even animal fats cab be healthy, but it needs to come from a clean, responsibly farmed source. Grass is the natural food for these grazing animals and when they eat what they were meant to, they fat is higher in omega-3 fatty acids. But when they are fed an unnatural diet of grain and soy (usually GMO) which is typical for factory or feedlot animals, their fat is much higher in pro-inflamatory fats. These large scale operations are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. By purchasing meat from small farmers who humanely raise their animals on grassland you can reduce your environmental footprint, support small farmers and enjoy tastier food that's better for your body.
• Chia, Hemp and Flax Seeds – Chia, hemp and flax seeds are a great source of an essential omega-3 fatty acid called ALA. Research shows that ALA is a heart-healthy omega-3, reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation and increasing optimal blood vessel health. Buy whole flax seeds and grind them just before using to make sure the fats don't oxidize.
• Spirulina – This blue-green algae may not be your typical, everyday food – but maybe it should be! Spirulina is packed with omega-3s, and two specific kinds called EPA and DHA, which have been shown to control inflammation and belly fat. Spirulina can also help us detoxify heavy metals like arsenic, and keep candida under control in our guts. One of my favorite ways to include spirulina in my diet is in smoothies and BRaw Superfood Bars. With 4 grams of protein per tablespoon, spirulina is also an excellent supplemental protein source for vegans and vegetarians. Caution: If you have PKU, autoimmune disease or are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor before consuming spirulina as it may be problematic for you.
These healthy-fats foods offer so many benefits! Add one or two to your diet each day to protect your heart; lower your cholesterol; reduce inflammation; reduce belly fat and fat stored around the liver; and help you kick your hunger cravings and feel more satisfied after a meal.