The words “healthy” and “fat” don’t often get used in the same sentence. It’s time to change that negative connotation: healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, fats from fish, and avocados are among the healthiest foods we can add to our diets.
They aid in the decrease of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, increase the high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and lubricate our joints. They also provide building material for the cells of our brain and heart. Besides being good for our overall health, they aid in the increase of metabolism; think of them as fuel for our metabolic fire. Healthy fats also aid in making food more satisfying because they are the most calorie dense of all the macronutrients at just 10 calories per gram, this means it takes more work for our body’s to digest them.
The term “healthy fat” can be broken down into two different types of fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated means it contains one double bond and polyunsaturated means it contains more than two double bonds, making it easier for our body to absorb them as well as convert them into energy. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are a polyunsaturated fat, provide numerous health benefits such as increased brain health, joint lubrication and fat metabolism. Some common sources of healthy fats and tips for incorporating them into your diet include:
- Nuts such as almonds, cashews, macadamia, and walnuts are great sources of monounsaturated fats which aid in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol. They are also great sources of fiber, plant sterols, and vitamin-E which aid in overall health. Mix a variety of nuts and dried fruit, such as raisins or cherries, and make a healthy trail mix to take on the go for an easy snack.
- Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, and flax provide animal-free sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which aid in the lubrication of joints, contribute to brain function, eye and skin health and help with fat metabolism in our bodies. Try toasting pumpkin seeds on a skillet and add seasoning of your choice, such as cinnamon, cayenne, or a pinch of salt to add a new and delicious flavor profile which work well by themselves or add some flare to a healthy salad.
- Oils like olive, coconut and macadamia nut oil are all great choices when looking for a cooking oil or base for a salad dressing. Olive and macadamia nut oils are full of monounsaturated fats. When cooking on a stove top it is recommended to use an oil such as macadamia nut which has a higher smoking point than olive oil. Try sautéing a mix of greens, such as spinach, kale or collard greens, in macadamia nut oil with roasted garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Fish are well respected for their role in improving heart health and function. Salmon, herring, and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol to help prevent heart disease and other health complications. Grill salmon with a little lemon and pepper, it goes great with brown rice, pasta, vegetables or as an addition to any salad.
- Fruits, specifically avocados, are a great source of healthy fats that can help curb your appetite and blood sugar levels. Avocados have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce the risk of stroke. Avocado mixed with red onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and a little paprika to create a delicious guacamole that can be used as a dip, salad dressing, or condiment for most savory meals.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WebMD, MayoClinic, National Institute of Health, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.