19 Healthy Fats: Everything you need to know about fats
Table of Contents
What makes “healthy fats” and “unhealthy fats”?
Although we classify saturated fats as “unhealthy” fats and unsaturated fats as “healthy” fats, it’s not that simple.
Polyunsaturated fats are the category in which healthy fats, Omega-3s are found, which are important fatty acids that we can’t create alone (you must eat them).
On the other hand, saturated and trans fats are associated with an increase in bad cholesterol and heart disease risk. Saturated fats and trans fats often come with lots of sugar and sodium, so we hear only bad news.
In fact, saturated fat isn’t bad, only if you focus on whole foods. Human beings require saturated fat because we are warm-blooded. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and these fats provide the appropriate stiffness and structure to our cell membranes and tissues. Saturated fats make them ideal for cooking.
Most fats contain different combinations of both saturated and unsaturated depending on where the fat comes from.
Healthy fats are those found in their natural form in whole foods. Natural fats are good for our bodies. Healthy fats are unprocessed and play an important role in the body. Additionally, since natural dietary fats are so energy and calorie-dense, they could minimize your hunger and balance blood sugar.
Eat the freshest whole foods to get healthy fats. This sounds expensive, but you will eat a lot less than processed foods, so you spend a lot less than you think.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFA): Unsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): Unsaturated fats
Unhealthy fats are fats that are industrially produced to be non-perishable:
- Trans-fatty acids
- Hydrogenated fats
- Most shelf-stable cooking oils: Avoid vegetable oils.
Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are often found in processed food and are often considered man-made fats. Though there are small amounts of trans fats naturally in meat and dairy products, it is the artificial trans fats that are considered unhealthy. Artificial trans fats create inflammation and contribute to numerous cardiovascular diseases.
The lower the man-made saturated and trans fats, the better.
Healthy fat food list
Avocado offers a great number of health benefits. While you should still limit yourself to a quarter or half of an avocado per meal, you shouldn’t worry about its fats.
Avocado is packed in monounsaturated fats that contain oleic acid, which can reduce hunger. This versatile fruit is also very nutritious – lots of healthy fats, protein, fiber, Vitamin C, folate, and Vitamin K.
It also contains small quantities of B Vitamins, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, iron, vitamin A, and phosphorous.
Avocado oil has a higher smoke point than most other oils. It’s neutral in flavor, doesn’t solidify, and works for pretty much anything.
- Antioxidants for eye health: zeaxanthin and lutein. Avocadoes also have the nutrients necessary to absorb these antioxidants easier.
- Better sources of potassium than bananas: Your body needs potassium for kidneys, the nervous system, and heart and muscles.
- Helps to maintain a healthy gut: Prebiotic fiber or “good bacteria,” in your gut are important for immune systems.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease: Coconuts lower blood triglycerides and LDL (“bad” cholesterol), both of which can cause heart disease. They also increase HDL (“good” cholesterol).
Go for pork bacon over turkey or other fake bacon! While turkey bacon will have 13 calories less than full-fat pork, it also adds sodium. Pork offers more protein and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based one.
However, serving size does matter. You can only have a few slices. Watch for brands that contain sugar or other unhealthy ingredients.
There are 2 kinds of coconut – refined and unrefined. Both are good. The refined will have a less prominent coconut taste to it while the unrefined will add a bit more “coconut” flavor.
Coconut oil will also change forms – solid when below 76 degrees and liquid above 76 degrees.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants naturally prevent you from free radical damage, which can cause cancer, heart disease, and premature aging.
- Coconuts contain lauric acid: Coconut is high in saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, promotes a stronger immune system, reduces bad cholesterol levels, abdominal fat, and risks of heart disease.
- Help to prevent type I Diabetes
- Great for the brain: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconuts create ketones, which fuel brain health. Ketones energize the brain.
- Skincare: Coconuts can be used as a moisturizer, lip balm, shaving cream, makeup remover, and sunburn soother.
- Haircare: Leave it overnight and it works as a conditioner!
- Other benefits: It boosts metabolism, supports a healthy thyroid, and provides energy.
- Good for weight loss: Dark chocolate contains the highest percentage of pure cocoa butter, a source of stearic acid. It takes more time to process, reduce hunger, and helps you lose weight.
- More antioxidants than berries: Besides the healthy fats, dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants: polyphenols, flavanols, flavonoids such as epicatechin and the procyanidins (help fight off free-radicals and improve blood pressure).
- Brain boosting food: Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate is composed of pure cacao derived directly from the Theobroma cacao tree. It increases blood flow to the brain, regulates mood, and prevent anxiety and depression. Dark Chocolate is very high in fat, and so it lends itself to low carb.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease: It lowers the LDL (the “bad type of cholesterol) while increasing HDL (the “good” type of cholesterol.)
Go for a real, full-fat cheese and not wood chips. Cheese is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, and it helps slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, leading to consistent energy levels and improved brain function. It may also help lower your risk of diabetes when you consume a lot of high-fat dairy products than low-fat dairy products.
Goat cheese is a better choice than cow’s cheese. Chèvre(goat cheese) contains vital nutrients like Vitamin B2, calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, Vitamin A, and healthy fats (saturated fats): 72% fat, 25% protein, and 3% carbohydrates.
- Certain goat cheeses contain probiotics: They help maintain a microbiome for maintaining the immune system, reduce inflammation, and regulate mental health.
- Good for weight loss: Cow’s cheese is more difficult to break down, your body is more likely to store it long-term as fat. On the other hand, goat cheese has more medium-chained fatty acids than cow’s cheese. Like coconut, it keeps you full longer thanks to protein, which is good for weight loss.
- Goat cheese is a safe food if you’re prone to acne or oily skin: The lauric acid in goat cheese fights the cause of acne.
Packed with protein, calcium, and probiotics, yogurt has all the goodness for weight loss and health. Make sure it’s “Greek”. Whole-milk, Greek yogurts tend to have more protein and fat and less sugar than their leaner versions, which makes for losing your hunger: protein takes longer to break down and fat makes you feel satisfied – great for weight loss. Greek yogurt also has pro-biotics, useful for gut health.
The majority of yogurt’s fat comes from saturated fats, but it also contains monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and naturally-occurring trans fatty acids. Because the overall fatty acid profile is reasonably balanced, it will have no overall effect on cholesterol levels because they both increase LDL but also increase HDL.
Heavy cream & Milk
Full-fat dairy packs more calories, but more filling, which helps you to lose weight. Heavy cream is a healthy fat that helps keep your blood sugar stable between meals and snacks.
Meat & meat fat
Beef is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and offers far more nutrients than any other food. You also get the added benefit of protein and the higher quality heme iron, which is more easily absorbed and used by the body.
Most meat is surrounded by a layer of fat adding flavor and moisture (while it cooks). You can eat this fat so long as the meat is the top quality and grass-fed.
Grass-fed beef is better than conventional meat:
- naturally leaner
- fewer calories
- higher in CLA, stearic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid (because grass contains ALA and corn doesn’t)
- lower in unhealthy palmitic acid
Out of all lean meats, the duck has the highest level of a muscle-building form of polyunsaturated fat (arachidonic acid, or AA). AA increases lean body mass, strength, and anaerobic power in men.
All nuts will be great sources of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats, just in varying amounts. Polyunsaturated fats in nuts activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. Eating healthy fats from nuts helps you to lose weight!
Walnuts are one of the best dietary sources (they also have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut) including protein. Walnuts and walnut oil may help the body respond better to stress and help keep diastolic blood pressure levels down.
Macadamia nuts are the highest fat nut. If you need to up your fat macros, then 1/4 cup of macadamias are a good choice.
Nowadays, you can find all kinds of nut butter: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, and walnuts, etc. By the way, peanuts are not nuts – a legume (bean). But if you’re someone who experiences inflammation from beans, you might want to skip the peanuts.
Unlike nuts, not all nut butter will be good sources of healthy fats. That’s why “nut butter” got its own section. You must check out the food labels. While the reduced-fat butter has less fat, but more sugar and salt. Make sure you find natural and one with fewer ingredients.
Non-natural nut butter can contain bad trans fat – especially hydrogenated oils. Watch out for the use of industrial seed oils added to some brands of nut butter. Avoid vegetable oils (soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, and corn). These are all industrial seed oils (corn is not a seed, but it is processed the same way).
Remember to read your ingredient labels. Oftentimes these will include unnecessary sugar. You’re looking for just the nuts, and maybe a little bit of salt.
Olive oil is rich in polyphenols for cancer and monounsaturated fats for heart health, including oleic acid. This fat also helps to lose weight. Extra virgin olive oil may increase blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with satiety. Olive oil is one of the healthy cooking oil choices.
Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats. But where some people cannot tolerate nuts, they can tolerate seeds.
Chia seeds are great source of nutrition including protein, and can be made into a pudding-like dessert by mixing with a high fat milk and letting it soak up overnight.
Ground flax seed contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids and can be used as an egg substitute in vegetarian cooking.
Flax seeds and chia seeds contain a fat (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can help weight loss and reduce heart disease risks by promoting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation.
Hemp seeds come from the cannabis Sativa plant. Although hemp belongs to the cannabis plant family, it doesn’t have any psychoactive properties.
- Hemp seeds are 30% fat – omega-6 and omega-3: Since the body doesn’t produce them naturally, we must consume them from food. Your body’s cells need these fatty acids to regulate nerve and brain functioning. Arganine (amino acids) lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Great source of protein: 25% of their calories come from their protein, edestin and albumin, which are easier for the body to digest than animal protein. Both of these proteins contain a good amount of essential amino acids for building protein, healing wounds, and maintaining healthy skin, hair, bones, and muscles.
- Good source of Vitamin E and more: Minerals: zinc, potassium, sodium, sulfur, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous. Vitamin E is a type of antioxidant that helps prevent disease and premature aging, lower inflammation, and promote a healthy immune system and skin.
- Hemp hearts are a great source of iron: This is great for vegans and vegetarians.
- Great for PMS: The Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seeds counteracts prolactin, a hormone responsible for many symptoms of PMS.
- Good for brain: Not only do they improve concentration, but they also help prevent brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Spirulina (alga) is rich in protein, a great source of omega-3s like EPA and DHA, and probiotics. It gives you more stamina and helps you lose weight during exercise. This blue-green alga, available in powders and supplements and is good for inflammation as well.
Tuna is one of the highest sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid out of all the fish. Canned light tuna is one of the best and most affordable fish for weight loss (thanks to the high protein content), especially for belly fat.
Eat fresh wild fish salmon since they are healthier, more nutritious, and taste better. Pink salmon is the second best, then farmed Atlantic salmon is one of the worst.
Salmon has a full of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, and lower blood pressure. It’s also great for your healthy protein need.
Eggs are not only a great source of protein, but also a great source of healthy fats (monosaturated fats). Do you think you have to eat only egg white to keep it healthy? No! You should eat the whole egg.
While the whites are all protein, the yolk contains the fat (and cholesterol, there’s no need to worry. The fat in yolks is mostly monounsaturated – healthy kind. The overall fat profile in egg yolks ultimately helps to reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol).
Egg is the best dietary source of choline, which is found also in lean meats, seafood, and collard greens. Egg attacks the gene mechanism that triggers the body to store fat around the liver.
Fat is a chain of fatty acids that the body can’t make itself. Every cell of your body is made from the fats you eat. Your body needs fats to maintain the cells and brain health, and to keep you full while providing flavors.
Types of fats
Fat is divided into saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Though all fats are classified into these categories, it is important to remember that all fat-based foods contain a combination of different types of fat, but are classified by the type of fat they contain the most. The difference could be in their bond structure.
- Saturated fats
- Unsaturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFA): have only one double-bond
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): have two or more
- Omega-3: it contains double-bonds in the chain and the first double-bond starts with the 3rd atom.
- Omega-6: If the double-bond starts with the 6th atom.
All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat provides 9 kcal of energy compared with 4 kcal for carbohydrates and protein.
Saturated fats have often been grouped with trans fats in researches. Many of the bad effects associated with saturated fats are actually only linked to trans fats. Saturated fats in dairy products are healthy. Good news, right?
Saturated fats have a very straight structure with hydrogens packed together very tightly and contain no double bonds between their carbon atoms. Hence, saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature, which makes them great as cooking fats.
Saturated fats can be found in long-chain, medium-chain, and short-chain forms, all of which play different roles in the human body.
Common sources of saturated fat:
- Animal fats – lard
- Dairy products – cheese, whole milk, butter, ghee
- Red meats
Cholesterol and saturated fats
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s mostly made by the body in the liver. It’s carried in the blood as:
Saturated fats raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels.
“Good” HDL cholesterol has a positive effect by taking cholesterol from parts of the body where there’s too much of it to the liver, where it’s disposed of.
Overconsumption of saturated fats can raise “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds. Depending on their bond structure, unsaturated fats have one (mono-) or more (poly-) double bonds in the chain of carbons.
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
Given not all of the carbons have hydrogens connected to them, which leaves unsaturated fats liquid at room temperature.
Replacing saturated fats with some unsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol level.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) have a single double bond in their structure.
Similar to saturated fats, monounsaturated fats help to form the structural fats of the human body and are considered healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats are commonly known as “healthy fats” because they reduce LDL while increasing HDL, lowering triglycerides and blood pressure, and fighting inflammation.
Common sources of monounsaturated fat:
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts – almonds, cashews, peanuts
- Oils – olive oil, safflower oil, and avocado oil
- Some meats
- Some nuts
Different types of MUFAs found in food:
- Reduces inflammation
- May even have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer
- Found in: avocado, olive oil.
Unlike saturated and monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), have multiple double bonds in their structure, which makes them the most prone to oxidation from light, heat, and air, especially high-heat cooking. It is best never to heat polyunsaturated fats.
2 major types of polyunsaturated fats:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, and EPA)
- have their first double bond at the third carbon
- Reduce the risk of blood clots and inflammation
- Help prevent heart disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Found in: salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, trout.DHA: essential for brain health
- Omega-6 fatty acids
- have their first double bond at the sixth carbon.
- Found in: fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, seed oils (canola, soybean, corn, safflower, etc.)
Common sources of polyunsaturated fat:
- Chia seed
- Cooking oils made from soybean, and corn
- Flax seed
- Oily fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines
- Pine nuts
Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods in small amounts. But most trans fats are made from oils through “partial hydrogenation” (food processing method). It could turn vegetable oils, which are unsaturated by nature, into a type of fat that mimics the properties of saturated fat.
Saturated fat gives baked goods a specific texture and shelf life. So trans fats were created as a substitute for butter and lard, the two most popular baking fats prior to this.
Trans fats are very unhealthy associated with cardiovascular disease because they cause inflammation. Trans fats can increase total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but lower HDL cholesterol.
- Candy bars
- Commercial baked goods
- Fast foods
- Fried foods
Tips for Reducing Saturated & Trans Fat Intake
Most of us consume animal products daily: trans fats and saturated fats. Since the protein and carbohydrates that animal products can offer are important in moderation, you can’t deprive them totally.
Try lean and low-fat options. But don’t go “low-fat” products like low-fat yogurt. What I meant was to eat whole foods with leaner options. You still can get the protein and/or carbs you need, but some of the fat has been removed. Then you have more room for good fats like those in nuts and fish.
Why do you need fats?
Dietary fats are required for either:
1) energy – cellular metabolism
Your body always burns carbohydrates/sugar first as energy – in the form of glucose. Glucose gives brain quick energy, but it burns off quickly. It doesn’t last long and spikes blood sugar levels. Fat intake can help you avoid getting hungry and control blood sugar levels.
The body won’t burn fat until it runs out of carbs to burn. Hence, you get a mental crash following a high carbohydrate intake. Excess energy from a high carbohydrate diet ends up storing more body fat.
This is the reason why low carb and Keto diet are so popular.
On Keto diet, you cut carb intake and increase the intake of (healthy) fats with protein. Since you don’t eat many carbs, your body must burn your stored fat as fuel – helping to lose weight. Ketosis is the natural metabolic state and much more desirable for your body and brain because they sustain the body for a much longer period of time.
2) incorporated into other body tissues and organs
- Cell growth
- Cell signaling
- Healthy hormone function
- Essential nutrition absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Regulating temperature
- Brain function the nervous system
3) stored as adipose (fat) tissues
Anything that wasn’t used for energy or cells will be stored as fat for future usage.
How much fat you should eat?
- You should get only 20 – 35 % of their calories from fat, although Keto diet and low carb diet recommend more intake of fat.
- Avoid trans fat.
- Limit saturated fat to less than 10 % of calories a day.
- Replace saturated fat with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Fats & Oils Used for Cooking
Fats & oils to use
Details on healthy cooking oils are here. Use saturated oils and healthy fats from foods high in Omega-3s – fish, nuts, olives, etc. for cooking. These fats can boost fat burning and provide your body and brain with quick energy. They also raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Avocado oil
- Bacon fat
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Goose fat
- Nut oils
- Organic grass-fed butter
- Red palm oil
Oils to Avoid
Avoid oils made from seeds, grains, and legumes. They are polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) that are high in Omega-6 fatty acids: cheap, usually neutral in flavors, having high smoking points for cooking (which is useful). However, they are highly processed – they are often soaked with “hexane”, an ingredient used in gasoline and roofing.
Avoid PUFA’s since they can cause numerous health issues – heart issues, obesity, and systemic inflammation. Do you want to put that in your body?
- Peanut oil
- Vegetable oil
“Vegetable oil” could be different names, but they should all be avoided.
Common forms of vegetable oils:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Rapeseed Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower Oil
- “Vegetable” oil
- Fake butter or spreads
Fat isn’t bad. Healthy fats are necessary for your body and healthy eating. You just need to pick good fats from whole foods and eat in moderation like every ohter foods. Now you got a lot of information to digest on healthy fats and unhealthy fats, but it'll be helpful in the long run.
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