For years, fat has been enemy number one. Presented by doctors and dieticians as the arch nemesis of dieting, high-fat foods were ditched in favor of sugar-packed low-fat alternatives. But the shift didn't seem to make all of us healthier. In fact, experts argue that it contributed to an obesity epidemic.
Why? Because healthy fats are essential for long-term health and we underestimated negative health effects of sugar. You can find out more about the disturbing truth surrounding sugar here. Not only is fat a major source of energy, but it plays an important role in a huge variety of vital processes, but it has to be the right kind of fat.
From avocado to almonds, there’s no shortage of healthy fats to choose from. Here’s our round-up of the best.
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
Not all fats are created equal. In fact, depending on the length and shape of the carbon chain, as well as the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms, fats can have hugely different forms and functions. So which ones should you embrace? And which ones should you avoid?
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. A common ingredient in fast food burgers and margarine, manmade trans fats usually appear on nutrition labels as “partially hydrogenated oils”. As well as being artificial, these fats can also raise your LDL cholesterol, while lowering the good kind, HDL cholesterol. On top of this, according to the American Heart Association, regular consumption of trans fats can dramatically boost your chances of developing heart disease.
The take-home message? Avoid artificial trans fats. For saturated fats on the other hand, the guidance is a bit more complicated. While there’s no conclusive evidence that saturated fat plays a positive or negative role on health, the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting your intake in favor of heart health monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
The phrase “healthy fats” usually refers to monosaturated and polyunsatured fats, which come mainly from seeds, nuts, vegetables and fish. Unlike saturated and trans fats, these have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol, maintain healthy insulin and blood sugar levels, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
As Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietician at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF: “Monounsaturated fats are among the healthiest of all fats. These are anti-inflammatory, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and are full of healthy nutrients.”
Now you know what healthy fats are, here’s where you can find them:
1. Olive Oil
Ever wondered what makes the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest in the world? Hint: it’s got something to do with olive oil. Yes, this polyphenol-packed oil is one the world’s best loved healthy fats. Boasting plenty of heart-strengthening mono-saturated fats, including oleic acid, extra virgin olive oil has been linked to all kinds of health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Unlike most other fruits that contain high amounts of carbohydrates, avocados are loaded with monosaturated fats – 23g of the stuff in fact. While this means you should limit your intake, it does make this superfood the perfect replacement for butter.
From coconut water to coconut oil, this high-fat superfood has taken the world by storm. Although coconut is high in controversial saturated fats, more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that boosts cholesterol scores, supercharges energy expenditure and battles bacteria. Not only that, but eaten in moderation it’s also diet-friendly. According to research, a regular dietary supplementation of coconut oil may actually reduce abdominal fat.
Nuts are bite size nutritional powerhouses. Loaded with proteins, minerals and vitamins, as well as plenty of heart-healthy fats, these superfoods are the perfect snack. While all nuts contain monounsaturated fats, walnuts are one of the best choices. Boasting impressive amounts of alpha linoleic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plants, they may help reduce inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a fatty meal.
Flaxseeds may be tiny, but they’re powerful. A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds can help balance out the generous amount of omega-6 fatty acids in our diets. Add to this the incredible amount of proteins, vitamins and nutrients locked away in these tiny seeds, and it’s clear that flaxseed is a pretty impressive superfood.
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