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Good Fats! 13 Healthy High-Fat Foods

By Brierley Horton, MS, RD | July 8, 2020 | EatingWell

If you still think that fat is the enemy and that the idea of "healthy fats" is an oxymoron, let us help change your mind. While we're not suggesting you seek out the fattiest cuts of meat or start eating butter with a spoon, certain types of fat—in moderation—are part of a balanced diet, and can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Cutting out fat entirely isn't healthy.

Here's the 30,000-foot view: Low-fat diets have—for the most part—been knocked off their pedestal because research now shows that eliminating fat altogether (or severely limiting it) may actually cause you to eat less healthfully overall. Turns out, dozens of studies have found that low-fat diets aren't any better for your health than moderate-fat or high-fat diets—and, for some people, they could be worse, particularly if they replace healthy fats with highly processed foods.

Instead, health experts suggest we all aim to include some fat in our diets, particularly from foods rich in "healthy" fats. Here's why to take that advice, plus 13 high-fat and healthy foods to add to your diet.

Why unsaturated fats are considered good for you

Some types of fat are better for you than others. What makes one fat healthier than another comes down to its chemical makeup. Unsaturated fats—that is, those fats whose chain of carbon atoms aren't fully saturated with hydrogen atoms—are considered "good fats." They're liquid at room temperature, and found in nuts, plant oils (olive oil, canola, corn and peanut oil) and oily fish.

Unsaturated fats are healthy for a few reasons. They're best-known for their heart-healthy attributes, such as lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol, as well as reducing your risk of developing heart disease. Research has also shown that people who frequently eat foods rich in healthy fats can lower their risk of dying of heart disease and cut their risk of stroke. Other research shows that folks who substitute 5% of their saturated fat intake with an equal amount of unsaturated fat also lower their risk of dying from cancer and neurodegenerative disease.

There are two types of good fats: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Although both are good for your heart, research suggests that polyunsaturated fats have a slight edge when it comes to heart health.

Eat foods rich in omega-3s

It's particularly important to eat foods rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, found in oily fish and some types of nuts and seeds. Ample research shows omega-3s have brain- and heart-health benefits and other potent anti-inflammatory properties that may play a protective role against cancer. Oily fish deliver two types of omega-3 fats—EPA and DHA—which are considered the most beneficial. Hemp, chia, flax and walnuts (and the oils made from them) all contain a plant-based omega-3 fat called ALA.

Why to limit saturated and trans fats

Saturated fats have carbon chains that are completely full with hydrogen atoms. They are typically solid at room temperature, and are considered less healthy because eating them raises levels of "bad" cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fats include beef, bacon, full-fat dairy products and coconut oil. Still, while you should limit how much saturated fat you eat, many otherwise-healthy foods contain it—like whole milk, cheese and chicken.

The only fats you should absolutely try to avoid are trans fats, manufactured in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to improve texture or taste in processed foods. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and increases your risk for stroke. It also raises your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers your "good" (HDL) levels. In short: steer clear of trans fats.

13 foods that are high in fat—and good for you

Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include:

  1. Oily, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines, anchovies, etc.)*
  2. Walnuts*
  3. Sunflower seeds*
  4. Chia seeds (and their oil)*
  5. Flaxseeds (and their oil)*
  6. Hemp seeds (and their oil)*
  7. Corn oil
  8. Soybean oil

Foods rich in monounsaturated fats include:

  1. Olive oil
  2. Canola oil
  3. Avocados
  4. Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans
  5. Peanuts, peanut oil and peanut butter

*Foods with an asterisk contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Bottom line: Despite the health benefits associated with some types of fat, government food surveys show us that most of us don't need to add fat to our diets to get enough. Most of us are already meeting recommendations for daily fat intake, though we could use a little work to eat the right types of fat. So now that you know what's considered "good fat," lean into those sources a little more, and move away from the less-healthy options.

This article was written by Brierley Horton, MS, RD from EatingWell and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Brierley Horton, MS, RD
EatingWell