The low fat craze of our childhoods did not work out for us. We all stopped eating many of our favorite foods thinking they were bad for us and ended up overweight, overly full of refined carbs, and sick. For the first time in 35 years, the USDA and HHS removed the limit on total fat consumption in the American diet (though they still recommend getting less than 10% from saturated fat) in 2015. Evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthy fats like nuts, oils, and fish have protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease. They also help you absorb some vitamins, fill you up so you eat less, and taste good, too.
Here are 9 to enjoy today:
1) Olive Oil - Olive oil is the original healthy fat. A tall body of research finds that it helps lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Most recently, Spanish researchers publishing in the journal Molecules reported that the various components of olive oil including oleic acid and secoiridoids slow the aging process. To get the most health benefits, choose extra-virgin olive oil, as it is extracted using natural methods and doesn’t go through as much processing as regular. Research also shows that veggies sautéed in olive oil are also richer in antioxidants than boiled ones—and they taste better too!
2) Fish - You may have heard your mother or grandmother describe fish as "brain food." That’s because fish are brimming with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. Your brain is made up of mostly fat, so you need to consume them in order to stay sharp and healthy. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 8 ounces per week to get healthy amounts of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which feed your brain and fight inflammation and chronic disease. If you're concerned about mercury, choose salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel), according to the USDA.
3) Avocado – As one of the NKFitSquad, you probably already know how awesome avocadoes are! But they’re more than just Natalie’s favorite food! They also help lower inflammation, which is linked to cardiovascular disease. In a 2014 study, a team of Mexican researchers fed a group of rats too much sugar, which gave them symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including high blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. They then fed the rats avocado oil, which lowered levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in their blood, while keeping protective good HDL cholesterol levels intact. You also need to consume healthy fats in order for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
4) Eggs - The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines lifted the longstanding limit on cholesterol, as we now know the cholesterol you eat doesn't have that much bearing on the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol floating in your bloodstream, and that saturated fat and genetic makeup are the real driving force behind dangerously high cholesterol. That's good news, since research finds that eating eggs in the morning can help you feel full and satisfied longer, making it easier to resist those pastries in your office pantry. Eggs from hens that are raised on pastures or fed omega-3 enriched feed tend to be higher in omega-3s.
5) Nuts - Nuts are nature's most perfect portable snack. Each handful packs a powerhouse of nutrients including amino acids, vitamin E, and unsaturated fatty acids. In one study in the British Journal of Nutrition, eating a daily one-ounce serving of nuts was associated with a 50% lower incidence of diabetes, a 30% reduction in heart disease, and a nearly 50% lower incidence of stroke. Before you chow down, beware the "candyfication" of nuts. Skip any that say "candied," or "glazed," and make sure there aren't any added ingredients, such as sugar and other vegetable oils. There is no need for oils to be added to nuts because they already have their own!
6) Seeds - Seeds like pumpkin, hemp, flax (grind these in a coffee grinder to release nutrients), chia, and sunflower are rich in monounsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids, which suppress inflammation. They're also a good source of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, iron, and magnesium. Pumpkin seeds have been found to be especially helpful for balancing blood sugar.
7) Coconut Oil - Coconut oil used to get a bad rap because its calories come predominantly from saturated fats. Now it's receiving some well-deserved vindication. The main type of saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Coconut oil is also unique from other sources of saturated fats because it contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are metabolized differently—they go straight from the liver to the digestive tract and can then be used up quicker than getting stored. It's also a very stable fat and is great for cooking with high temperatures.
8) Grass-fed Cheese - Cheese has long been regarded as dietary villain that clogs your arteries. However, some studies have found that people who regularly eat cheese have lower risk of high LDL cholesterol and heart disease. Aged cheeses like Parmesan are also a good source of probiotics, which promote healthy digestion and weight. Grass-fed cheese is full of good nutrients like MCT’s, phosphorous, protein, and calcium. It also increases levels of butyric acid in the body, which has been linked to lower obesity risk and a faster metabolism.
9) Dark Chocolate - For years, many of us reserved chocolate for an occasional indulgence. Now we know that a daily chunk of dark chocolate, which is a source of healthy fats, actually protects the heart. Researchers from Louisiana State University reported that when you eat dark chocolate, good gut microbes like Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria feast on it and they grow and ferment it, which produces anti-inflammatory compounds that protect your cardiovascular health. The sweet may also keep you slim. One study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that folks who eat chocolate five times a week have a lower BMI and are about 6 pounds lighter than those who don’t eat any.
Bottom Line: There is no need to avoid fat. Eat what you love and what loves you back. Reach for the organic dark chocolate. Sprinkle extra seeds on your salad and use the full-fat dressing. Bake eggs in avocado and sprinkle with cheese. By shifting your focus away from the fat content on the food label, your brain, gut, skin, and bones will thank you. Avocado toast anyone?
Jacqueline Corbett, MS RD LD