Contents

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

There are two types of “good” unsaturated fats:

1. Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in:

    • Olive, peanut, and canola oils
    • Avocados
    • Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
    • Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds

2. Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in

    • Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils
    • Walnuts
    • Flax seeds
    • Fish
    • Canola oil – though higher in monounsaturated fat, it’s also a good source of polyunsaturated fat.

Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can’t make these, so they must come from food.

  • An excellent way to get omega-3 fats is by eating fish 2-3 times a week.
  • Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.
  • Higher blood omega-3 fats are associated with lower risk of premature death among older adults, according to a study by HSPH faculty.
  • Read more about omega-3 fats in our Ask the Expert with Dr. Frank Sacks.

Most people don’t eat enough healthful unsaturated fats. The American Heart Association suggests that 8-10 percent of daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats, and there is evidence that eating more polyunsaturated fat—up to 15 percent of daily calories—in place of saturated fat can lower heart disease risk. (7)

  • Dutch researchers conducted an analysis of 60 trials that examined the effects of carbohydrates and various fats on blood lipid levels. In trials in which polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats decreased levels of harmful LDL and increased protective HDL. (8)
  • More recently, a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed that replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat, predominantly monounsaturated fats, lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, and reduces the estimated cardiovascular risk. (9)

Finding Foods with Healthy Fats is a handy visual guide to help you determine which fats are beneficial, and which are harmful.

Saturated Fats

All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in beef, cheese, and ice cream. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10 percent of calories each day from saturated fat. (10)
  • The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending limiting saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of calories. (11)
  • Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates. Eating refined carbohydrates in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.

In the United States, the biggest sources of saturated fat (12) in the diet are

  • Pizza and cheese
  • Whole and reduced fat milk, butter and dairy desserts
  • Meat products (sausage, bacon, beef, hamburgers)
  • Cookies and other grain-based desserts
  • A variety of mixed fast food dishes

Though decades of dietary advice (13, 14) suggested saturated fat was harmful, in recent years that idea has begun to evolve. Several studies suggest that eating diets high in saturated fat do not raise the risk of heart disease, with one report analyzing the findings of 21 studies that followed 350,000 people for up to 23 years.

  • Investigators looked at the relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their controversial conclusion: “There is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD.”(13)
  • A well-publicized 2014 study questioned the link between saturated fat and heart disease, but HSPH nutrition experts determined the paper to be seriously misleading. In order to set the record straight, Harvard School of Public Health convened a panel of nutrition experts and held a teach-in, “Saturated or not: Does type of fat matter?“

The overarching message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. (1, 15, 22) Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.

Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. (16) So while saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fat remains the healthiest type of fat.

Percentage of Specific Types of Fat in Common Oils and Fats*

Oils Saturated Monounsaturated Polyunsaturated Trans
Canola 7 58 29 0
Safflower 9 12 74 0
Sunflower 10 20 66 0
Corn 13 24 60 0
Olive 13 72 8 0
Soybean 16 44 37 0
Peanut 17 49 32 0
Palm 50 37 10 0
Coconut 87 6 2 0
Cooking Fats
Shortening 22 29 29 18
Lard 39 44 11 1
Butter 60 26 5 5
Margarine/Spreads
70% Soybean Oil, Stick 18 2 29 23
67% Corn & Soybean Oil Spread, Tub 16 27 44 11
48% Soybean Oil Spread, Tub 17 24 49 8
60% Sunflower, Soybean, and Canola Oil Spread, Tub 18 22 54 5

*Values expressed as percent of total fat; data are from analyses at Harvard School of Public Health Lipid Laboratory and U.S.D.A. publications.

Trans Fats

Trans fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, a process called hydrogenation.

  • Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to become rancid. This process also converts the oil into a solid, which makes them function as margarine or shortening.
  • Partially hydrogenated oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down, making them ideal for frying fast foods.
  • For these reasons, partially hydrogenated oils became a mainstay in restaurants and the food industry – for frying, baked goods, and processed snack foods and margarine.

Partially hydrogenated oil is not the only source of trans fats in our diets. Trans fats are also naturally found in beef fat and dairy fat in small amounts.

Trans fats are the worst type of fat for the heart, blood vessels, and rest of the body because they:

  • Raise bad LDL and lower good HDL
  • Create inflammation, (18) – a reaction related to immunity – which has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions
  • Contribute to insulin resistance (16)
  • Can have harmful health effects even in small amounts – for each additional 2 percent of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent.

The long road to phasing-out artificial trans fats

For years, only true diet detectives knew whether a particular food contained trans fat. This phantom fat was found in thousands of foods, but only those familiar with the “code words” partially hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening knew when it was present. Fortunately, after a large body of research in the 1990s sounded the alarm on its deleterious health effects, a series of policy initiatives led to the near elimination of artificial trans fat in the U.S. food supply by 2018. However, the road to eliminating trans fat was not so straightforward, and outside the U.S. there’s still more work to be done. In many developing nations, trans fat intake remains high.Read more about the key research and policy initiatives shining the spotlight on harmful trans fats.

7. Mozaffarian, D., R. Micha, and S. Wallace, Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med, 2010. 7(3): p. e1000252.

8. Mensink, R.P., et al., Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr, 2003. 77(5): p. 1146-55.

16. Riserus, U., W.C. Willett, and F.B. Hu, Dietary fats and prevention of type 2 diabetes. Prog Lipid Res, 2009. 48(1): p. 44-51.

22. Farvid MS, Ding M, Pan A, Sun Q, Chiuve SE, Steffen LM, Willett WC, Hu FB. Dietary Linoleic Acid and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation, 2014.

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The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.

Summit Medical Group Web Site

The Mediterranean Diet for Prevention

Reviewed by Susan Canonico, RD

If you would like to eat healthy foods that can help protect you from heart disease, certain cancers, and other serious chronic diseases, try the Mediterranean diet!

Rich in flavorful dishes made from vegetables, nuts, natural vegetable oils, whole grains, and fruits, the Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of fresh, delicious dietary options that help promote good health and longevity.

What is the Mediterranean diet?
Nutritionists recognized the plant-based Mediterranean diet in the 1960s, when chronic disease in the Greek and southern Italian populations was among the lowest and adult life expectancy was among the highest in the world.

Key elements of the Mediterranean diet include consuming:

  • An abundance of seasonally fresh vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits
    Research shows that a diet primarily based on plants (10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day) is high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and oils. Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals are an outstanding source of fiber; nuts are rich in heart-healthy oils and high in protein; and beans are high in fiber and protein
  • Few or no processed foods
    Although there are no data to suggest that all processed foods are bad for you, some research shows that they have disadvantages. For example, processed foods tend to be high in sodium, trans fats, and high-fructose corn syrup. Too much salt in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, trans fats raise bad (or low-density lipoprotein ) cholesterol and lower good (high-density lipoprotein ) cholesterol and can contribute to heart disease; and high-fructose corn syrup is high in calories, contributes to insulin resistance, and tends to be stored as fat instead of used as energy
  • Olive and other healthy vegetable oils instead of saturated fats and oils such as butter and margarine
    Research shows that olive oil and other monounsaturated (MUFAs) fats or polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats can lower total cholesterol levels as well as keep your blood cells slippery and protect you against harmful blood clotting. Some data also show that MUFAs have a positive effect on insulin levels and blood sugar, which can be good for people with type 2 diabetes. It’s important, however, to remember that all oils are high in calories! If you are like most of us and watching your weight, include healthy oils sparingly in your diet
  • Fish and chicken, with an emphasis on fish
    Fish and chicken are lean and ideal sources of protein, which help build muscle tissue, cells, and bone. Certain fishes such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, herring, and lake trout and are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids also are linked with better brain, memory, and behavioral function. Chicken is an excellent, low-fat source of protein (3 ounces yield 27 grams of protein), selenium, the vitamins B3 and B6, and essential amino acids.
  • Lean red meat in small amounts (12 to 16 ounces) only a few times each month
    Because red meat is a higher fat protein source than fish and chicken, you should have it only occasionally rather than as a staple in your diet
  • Low-to-moderate amounts of non- and low-fat cheeses and yogurt
    Nonfat and lowfat dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium and protein. Try a dollop of fat-free plain yogurt or low-fat yogurt atop your whole grain cereal with strawberries and blueberries for a tasty, protein-packed, high-fiber, low-calorie start to your day!
  • Up to 7 eggs each week, including those used in cooking and baking
    A nutrient-dense food, eggs are a terrific low-calorie (~80) source of protein, vitamins (A, B, C, D, and E), and minerals such as selenium that are essential for good health. The choline in eggs helps keep cell membranes healthy, while the selenium is a potent antioxidant that can help strengthen your immune system. Folate and riboflavin are B vitamins, that help convert food into energy. The folate in eggs also helps prevent birth defects. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which some researchers believe can help prevent macular degeneration
  • Fresh fruit instead of sweets made with sugars
    Fresh fruit is a delicious way to satisfy your desire for something sweet without the added calories and fat in many processed sweets. In addition, eating fruit gives you fiber that’s good for the health of your colon and cardiovascular system
  • Total fat <25% of calories, with saturated fat ≤8% percent of calories
    Eating a low-fat diet can help protect you from heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and diabetes
  • Moderate amounts of wine with meals; 1 to 2 glasses per day for men and 1 glass per day for women
    Red wine provides antioxidants that can help raise good (or high-density lipoprotein ) cholesterol. Some research shows that the flavonoids in red wine have benefits for the heart

“In addition to being an excellent source of nutrition, the Mediterranean diet can be combined with regular physical activity and attention to total calories to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight,” says Summit Medical Group Dietitian Susan Canonico, RD. “The best thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it offers many meal and snack options that taste great in addition to being good for you!”

For more information about the Mediterranean diet
or to schedule an appointment,
call Summit Medical Group Nutrition Services today
at 908-277-8731.

caption Eating fat won’t make you fat, if you do it right. source

Fat in food has gotten an unfair reputation as a belly-bulging demon that can wreck your diet and cause you to gain weight.

But the truth is, we need some fat in our diets to survive. The proper amount of the right kind of fat can fuel your body and help feed your brain. Many studies have shown that people who eat more fat don’t get more fat, nor do they have higher rates of other health problems like cancer or heart disease.

It’s true that fat packs a punch: it’s got more energy, calorie for calorie, than carbohydrates or proteins do, which means a little bit can go a long way. But you probably don’t need to track how much fat you’re eating every day.

Incorporating healthy fat into a diet can help people stay full, survive harsh conditions, and perhaps even live longer than their peers. One 2016 study followed more than 126,200 men and women for more than 30 years, and found that those who ate more healthy, unsaturated fat and less carbs were less likely to die from all causes.

One of the main reasons we need to eat fat is because it provides some essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t produce on their own.

That’s not an excuse to slather a layer of heavy lard onto everything you eat. The kinds of fats we consume make a big difference. Researchers have discovered that replacing just 5% of a person’s saturated fat intake with healthier polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats is associated with a roughly 13% to 27% reduction in mortality. Eating the right kinds of fats, however, can help keep your body satiated, protect your cells, and keep your heart healthy.

Here are some prime examples of foods with the best fats that you could probably be eating more of:

Whole eggs

source Shanti May /

Eggs are a great fatty addition to your diet because the dietary cholesterol (that’s the term for the kind of cholesterol you eat) in them doesn’t have much effect on your blood cholesterol (the kind your doctor measures).

In fact, eggs can help regulate how cholesterol is absorbed in the body because of their high concentrations of phospholipids: special kinds of fats that can also help control inflammation. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help keep our eyes healthy.

Plus, eggs are a great protein source, which means you’ll stay fuller for longer after an eggy meal. They also deliver omega-3 fatty acids, which are some of the essential fats the body can’t produce on its own. (But there is not nearly as much omega-3 in eggs as there is in fish.)

For people with Type 2 diabetes, it’s possible that eating eggs could increase the risk of developing heart disease, but more research on that is needed.

If you’re otherwise healthy, go ahead and get that omelette – and don’t bother with the egg-white substitution.

Oatmeal

source Flickr/Rachel Hathaway

Most people don’t think of oatmeal as a fat-rich food, but part of the reason the breakfast keeps people full is that it’s loaded with more fat than most other grains – mostly the good polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kinds.

Oats are also a great way to get more amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals like B6 and iron. That’s all in addition to the protein and calcium oats are known to deliver.

Spirulina

caption Spirulina is a blue-green algae that people have been eating for centuries. source

Spirulina is an ancient type of blue-green sea algae that has developed a cult following as a “superfood.” It’s often added to smoothies as a dark green powder.

The algae was a source of sustenance long before the age of blenders: The Aztecs dried and ate it in Mexico as early as the 1600s.

The cyanobacteria is rich in protein and iron, and also boasts a punch of amino acids and fat. Just two tablespoons of spirulina have a gram of fat. That’s not nearly as much fat as an egg or piece of meat contains, but it’s impressive for a piece of seaweed.

But be careful where you get your algae from – the National Institutes of Health warns that some contaminated spirulina can cause liver damage and harbor toxic metals and bacteria.

Seeds, especially chia, flax, and sesame.

source

Seeds aren’t just for the birds.

Options like ground flax, sesame, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are all high in polyunsaturated fats and filled with omega-3s that can help lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.

Just two tablespoons of chia seeds will give you 7 grams of unsaturated fat, and can also help lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and regulate blood pressure. Because chia seeds break apart easily when we digest them, you don’t need to grind them up like flax.

Of course, since seeds are small, it can be easy to overdo it; think of them more as replacements for less healthy saturated fats in your diet, and consume them in moderation.

Coconut oil

caption Coconut oil (that’s the fatty, meaty part, not the water) is an efficient source of energy. source Thomson Reuters

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but it’s not terrible for you.

About 50% of the fatty acid content in coconut oil is lauric acid, a kind that gets sent to the liver and used as energy by the brain and the body, instead of being stored as excess fat.

Coconut oil can can also help fill you up in a hurry, while the medium-chain triglycerides inside (MCTs) help you burn off more fat around your waistline, and lose weight all over. There’s even some evidence that the oil may help patients with breast and uterine cancers.

Still, nutrition experts like doctor Walter Willett at the Harvard School of Public Health caution that coconut oil should probably be used sparingly in your diet, since the health benefits of unsaturated fats and oils are more proven.

Nuts, especially walnuts

source Flickr / Rebecca Siegel

Nuts are a great high-fat snack in general, but the health benefits of walnuts are unique.

They contain a kind of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is also in flax seeds, soybeans, hemp, and chia seeds. It’s one of two essential fatty acids that the body can’t produce on it’s own (the other is linoleic acid).

Tofu

source Brent Hofacker /

People don’t typically think of tofu as a high in fat, but it’s a nutritional wonder – a complete protein source bursting with good fat.

Just half a cup of the soybean curd can provide you with 20% of a day’s recommended protein intake and 6 grams of fat (and less than a single gram of that is saturated).

Edamame

sourceWikipedia

Like tofu, immature soybeans – or edamame – are a great source of fat. They’re also high in fiber and protein, and can be good for aging bones.

A single cup of cooked edamame will fill you up with eight grams of fat, but only a single gram is the saturated kind. The beans are also a good source of magnesium, potassium, and iron.

Olives

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Olive oil gets promoted as a source of high-quality fat, and it’s a staple of many dietitians’ favorite Mediterranean Diet, but where do you think it comes from?

Olives have a special kind of healthy fat named after them: monounsaturated oleic fatty acid, which can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Consuming olive oil is a way to get more oleic acid and essential linoleic acid into your diet.

Full-fat dairy

source Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler

It may seem counterintuitive, but eating more heavy, full-fat dairy products can be a great way to stay healthy and trim.

A study of more than 3,700 healthy adults revealed those who ate more whole-fat dairy were more likely to have higher levels of the fatty acid trans-palmitoleate in their bodies. That, in turn, corresponded with slightly trimmer waistlines, less fat tissue, and more of the good kind of (HDL) cholesterol.

A much larger study of nearly 27,000 people from ages 45 to 74 found that participants who ate more high-fat dairy had the lowest diabetes rates.

“Those who ate the most high-fat dairy products had a 23% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least,” study author Ulrika Ericson said in a statement.

That wasn’t true for people who ate more meat, which was linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, regardless of the fat content.

Fatty fish like tuna and salmon

caption This 400-pound bluefin tuna is brimming with healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. source Reuters/Toru Hanai

Fatty fish are filled with essential omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce the amount of fat in your blood, lower blood pressure, and keep your heart healthy.

The American Heart Association recommends adding salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna to your diet a couple times per week.

Wheat germ

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Wheat germ is the meaty inner heart of a wheat kernel – the embryo that germinates to grow into a fully developed plant. Unfortunately, it is often stripped away in the creation of processed foods to help them last longer.

Wheat germ has tons of fiber and boasts some fat, too (about 1.4 grams per cup, most of it unsaturated). Some people sprinkle it on their cereal in the morning, or top fruit or yogurt with wheat germ for an extra nutrient-rich crunch.

Unsaturated cooking oils, especially olive oil

source dulezidar/iStock

The kind of oil you consume can make a big difference to your heart.

Monounsaturated fats can actively lower your level of the bad (LDL) type of cholesterol. They’re called “mono” because the fat molecules have just one unsaturated carbon bond.

Oils like olive, peanut, and sesame are all high in monounsaturated fat, but there’s a lot of good research behind olive oil in particular.

People who use olive oil in their kitchen instead of going low-fat have been shown to have a lower risk of developing a heart attack, stroke or deadly heart disease. In one long-term study of 145,000 women, those who consumed at least a tablespoon of olive oil every day had a 10% reduced risk of developing adult diabetes.

And of course, avocados

caption You probably knew that avocado was going to make this list, but do you know why it’s so good for you? source Rob Ludacer

What would a list of healthy fats be without the darling fat of our times, the humble avocado?

A cup of the creamy green fruit has a whopping 14 grams of monounsaturated fat, along with smaller doses of polyunsaturated (2.7 g) and saturated fat (3.1 g).

In addition to fat, fiber, and protein, avocados are a great way to get potassium, which is a natural antidote to salt and can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

So go enjoy a little more fat today. Just make sure you’re eating rich, filling, healthy fats that will treat your body right.

Fat phobia drove dieting for a long time. Raise your hand if you used to nom on fat-free Snack Wells or Cheezits back in the day. And it makes sense that we’d see this nutrient as the bad guy since fat has more calories per serving than other nutrients. Plus, it’s found in high doses in lots of unhealthy foods.

But more recently, research has been showing another side to fat, one that, counterintuitively, can help you slim down. “There is such a thing as healthy fats,” says Kim Larson, R.D.N., and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And besides the benefits they provide your heart and brain, they can actually help people feel more full. That’s because fat takes longer to digest, which means it’s an extremely satiating food so you won’t be hungry again anytime soon. And that’s a very, very good thing when you’re trying to lose weight.

We asked Larson to spill her favorite healthy sources of fat and how to incorporate them into your diet when you’re trying to drop pounds.

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Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios make a great snack for someone who wants to lose weight. They’re crunchy, tasty, satisfying, and if you buy them in the shell, they take a little effort to eat. Just practice portion control and measure out a quarter-cup. You can also sprinkle them on oatmeal, salads, or add to homemade trail mix, says Larson.

(Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)

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“Eggs have really great healthy fats,” says Larson. And because those fats actually help you absorb the phytonutrients that are found in leafy greens, they’re a perfect protein-packed salad topper.

This easy trick will show you if your eggs are still good in seconds:

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These water-retaining seeds actually help de-bloat your middle. “When you mix chia with any liquid, it becomes a gel-like substance and it’s very, very filling,” says Larson. Try a handful in your morning oatmeal or smoothie to make it extra satisfying.

Related: ‘I Ate Oatmeal Every Morning For A Month—Here’s What Happened’

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What does EVOO have that other oils don’t? Oleocanthal. It’s a compound that’s been shown to help reduce inflammation, says Larson. And that’s great news since research has shown a correlation between inflammation and weight gain. She encourages making salad dressings at home with extra virgin olive oil and roasting veggies in the oil. You can even drizzle a little on top to serve for extra flavor. (Remember, greens + healthy fats = more nutrients, so toss those fat-free dressings!)

Related: 7 Supplements That Melt Fat

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Who knew your occasional nighttime craving for a spoonful of peanut butter could actually be R.D.-approved? As long as it’s a strictly a spoonful, you’re good to go. “Keeping it within one to two tablespoons is important,” Larson says. “You can put it on fruit. You can put it on toast.” Nut butters (including almond and cashew) also have the added health boost of antioxidants and minerals that your body needs.

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Just a quarter of the decadent green fruit will do. Aside from its traditional pairing with a slice of toast at breakfast, a particularly unexpected way to take advantage of an avocado’s healthy fats is to incorporate it into a smoothie. You’ll remain full for a lot longer, and it will give your smoothie a deliciously creamy texture that just can’t be beat.

Related: These 8 Summer Breakfasts Will Step Up Your Weight Loss Game

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Plentiful omega-3 fatty acids are the reason fish is known as brain food, but they also help ensure this lean protein satisfies you. Opt for fatty or oily fish—which includes not just salmon but also arctic char, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, halibut, and shellfish like oysters and mussels. An easy way to sneak these into your diet without making a meal of them: Pre-game your meal with an order of oysters.

Kayla Blanton Kayla Blanton is a freelance writer who reports on all things health and nutrition for Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Prevention.

Don’t Fear The Fat! Add These Healthy Fats Back Into Your Diet

For a while there, dietary fats were the villain, responsible for making us fat and ruining our health. After all, fat packs 9 calories per gram; protein and carbs, only 4 calories per gram. The math seemed pretty clear. Fats are fatty. Case closed. Cast ’em out of the kitchen!

By this clever new calculus, a bag of low-fat pretzels was inherently more healthful than a handful of nuts. And so in the early 1990s we turned our food focus from fats to carbohydrates. Sweet, sweet carbs. We loaded up on pastas and other refined carbs and reached for sugary snacks (hello, SnackWells). As long the label read “no fat” or “low fat,” we figured we were golden. But we were only fooling ourselves. Rather than reduce obesity, our fat-free, carb-crazed days only helped turn it into an epidemic.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

Turns out, fats are friendly. Some fats, anyway. And so today, as we welcome fats back into the fold of respectable nutrients, let’s take a closer look at the various fats; because it’s true, not all fats are created equal.

Essentially, there are two groups of fats: Saturated fats and unsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats. Butter, lard, animal fat — these are saturated fats. Why saturated? Because chemistry. Their fatty acids are densely packed together — and saturated with hydrogen molecules. In practical terms, this means they’re mostly solid at room temperature. More on saturated fats in a moment.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

Unsaturated Fats. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, don’t have that hydrogen saturation along the chains of fatty acids. So they typically remain liquid at room temperature. Think olive oil and other vegetable oils. The fats in nuts and avocados are also unsaturated.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

Among the family of unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids stand tall. You’ve no doubt heard about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. When people describe fatty fish like salmon as being healthful, they’re usually talking about omega-3, an essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular activity. Omega-3 may also protect against a host of health issues from obesity to sunburns. A 2005 study published by the Archives of Neurology claims that eating fish once a week may even slow the rate of cognitive decline. Nutrition Source at Harvard School of Public Health summed it up like this, “Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.”

The thing is, omega-3s are the only fatty acids our bodies don’t manufacture. So we need to get these essential fats through the foods we eat. In addition to fish (like salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and trout), omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax seeds, walnuts (and other nuts), and vegetable oils like olive oil and canola oil.

Image zoom Grilled Salmon and Blueberry Sauce | Photo by Meredith

The Trouble with Trans Fats, A.K.A. Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Okay, now here’s where things get a little strange. Trans fats are also unsaturated fats. Which sounds like a good thing. Only they’re not naturally occurring unsaturated fats, like the healthy fats we find in nuts, vegetable oils, and avocados. Instead, trans fats are made through an industrial process (hydrogenation) that de-stabilizes the bonds between carbon atoms, causing them to flip into what’s called a “trans” position. The bottom line: Trans fats have an unhealthy effect on blood cholesterol.

Here’s why. There are two types of blood cholesterol: HDL and LDL. One good, one not-so-good. You can remember which is which with this simple mnemonic: “L” is for lousy; “H” is for happy. The lousy LDL cholesterol leads to plaque build-up in the arteries; happy HDL cholesterol, meanwhile, is like a vacuum, hoovering up the bits that can cause blockage.

Ideally, you want to eat fats that lower your LDL cholesterol and boost or at least don’t diminish your HDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, trans fats are the dim bulbs of the fats world. They have it exactly backwards: Trans fats give a lift to the lousy cholesterol (LDL) and lower the good stuff (HDL). The result is an increased risk for heart disease.

Fortunately, trans fats are becoming increasingly unfashionable — McDonald’s, for example, hasn’t fried with trans fats for over a decade. New York City, meanwhile, banned trans fats from restaurants back in 2007. And the FDA is working to ban man-made trans fats altogether from the US food supply. But until trans fats are gone completely, federal law requires that food producers list them on labels, so read nutrition labels on processed foods (like packaged crackers, cookies, and cakes). If you see trans fats on the label or “partially hydrogenated oil” in the list of ingredients, move right along.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

What about saturated fats and health? Yes, well, now we’re entering into disputed territory. Experts disagree, and the science is still out. True, saturated fats have been shown to raise LDL cholesterol. But its effect on HDL cholesterol is more encouraging, if not necessarily offsetting: Saturated fat doesn’t seem to lower the good cholesterol. So while saturated fat isn’t exactly vindicated, it’s maybe not the black hat-wearing villain either.

As The New York Times reported in 2014, an international team of scientists analyzed the existing data and “found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events.”

However, a subsequent study came to a different conclusion. As Time magazine reported, this study suggested that data indicating no evidence for increased risk of heart disease could be flawed. Here’s why: As we noted above, when people stop eating fat, they often replace the fat calories with calories from refined carbs, which is no improvement. In fact, people in the study who replaced the fat primarily with refined carbs ended up running risks of heart disease that were similar to the saturated fat eaters. Interestingly, people in this same study who replaced saturated fats with unsaturated fats and got their carbs from whole grains fared better than people who got their calories from refined carbs. So…it’s complicated.

Meanwhile, new research shows that meat and milk from organically raised animals had “levels of omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for lowering the risk of heart disease were 50 percent higher” than meat and milk from conventionally raised animals. The reason for the elevated omega-3s in organically raised animals most likely is that the organically raised animals ate grass instead of grain — and grass is much richer in omega-3s.

So what do the experts recommend? For the most part, the advice is simple: Completely avoid trans fats (there’s just no point); limit saturated fat intake, particularly red meat (and eat grass-fed meat when you can); cook with and enjoy foods with healthy, satiating, unsaturated fats (the kind made in nature, not in a lab), including nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, and avocados.

Fats have a place in every healthy, balanced diet—which is great because they add delicious flavor and texture to food as well as slow digestion (which contributes to the feeling of satiety). The key is to choose more of the healthy fats and less of the unhealthy fats, through moderation. Here are some tips to follow:

  1. Skip the bottled, creamy salad dressing and make your own with heart-healthy oils, like olive oil, walnut oil or avocado oil. Mix two parts oil with one part vinegar, add your favorite herbs and enjoy!
  2. Stir ground flaxseed into your cereal, smoothies, yogurt, pancake batter and muffin mix. Flax seeds are a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
  3. Go nuts! Toss a few into salads, spread nut butter on whole grain bread, or snack on pistachios when hunger strikes. Just be mindful of portion size and stick to a 1-ounce serving (an example of one ounce of nuts: 49 pistachios or 24 almonds).
  4. Add avocado to sandwiches and salads or toss some into your morning smoothie for some added creamy texture.
  5. Chia seeds swell when placed in liquids, creating a pudding-like texture. Make chia seed pudding at home by whisking into the milk of your choice with yogurt and a little maple syrup.
  6. Sprinkle sunflower seeds into salads for an added crunch. Toast them first to really enhance their flavor.
  7. Mix tahini and cumin into plain nonfat yogurt for a chicken marinade, or blend it with chickpeas in a food processor for a homemade hummus.
  8. Swap chicken for salmon – bake salmon in the oven with your favorite sauce and serve over noodles or brown rice.
  9. When you’re craving something salty, skip the chips and reach for olives. Just a few can curb your craving and fill you up.
  10. Eat the whole egg! The fat found in the yolk is the healthy kind so there’s no need to toss them aside. Keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for a quick grab-and-go breakfast or snack.

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These high-fat foods are actually good for you

It might seem counterintuitive, but eating certain foods high in fat can actually help you keep the pounds off and improve your overall health.

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Indeed, researchers have now shown that dietary fats, including saturated fat, may not be as villainous as we once thought—especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. In fact, in response to current research and emerging evidence, the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services removed the limit on total fat consumption in the American diet in the updated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—a bold move that reversed nearly 40 years of focus on reducing total fat consumption. Since 2005, the guidelines had emphasized a reduction of dietary fat to between 20% to 35% of caloric intake/day.

With fats now returning to the culinary scene and gaining popularity with some fitness trends, such as with the keto diet, let’s take a look at some foods that—despite their high fat content—are incredibly nutritious, filling, and worth adding to your diet.

Cheese

An excellent source of calcium, fatty acids, protein, and other vitamins and minerals, cheese has been shown to protect against numerous health ills, including type 2 diabetes, total mortality, and mortality from cerebrovascular causes.

In one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that people who regularly ate high-fat dairy products, including cheese, actually had the lowest incidence of diabetes.

In an analysis of data from the Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) study, experts found that dairy products—with the exception of milk—may protect against both total mortality and mortality secondary to cerebrovascular causes. Specifically, consumption of all dairy was associated with a 2% lower total mortality risk, with cheese consumption reducing the risk by 8%. For cerebrovascular mortality, they observed a 4% decreased risk with total dairy consumption.

Despite these positive findings, it’s important to note that cheese should be eaten in moderation, given its high sodium and saturated fat content, which can raise your blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, respectively.

Avocado

Avocados are excellent sources of potassium—containing more than even bananas—and fiber. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, or oleic acid, which has been shown to promote satiety and positively impact LDL cholesterol levels. Researchers have shown that eating the “alligator pears” can promote a host of positive health benefits in addition to cardiovascular improvement.

In one meta-analysis of 10 studies, adherence to an avocado-enriched diet significantly decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels—even in healthy participants with relatively normal baseline values.

In an analysis of data from the NHANES 2001-2008, people who incorporated avocados into their regular diets weighed less and had less body fat.

In another study, researchers found that polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols derived from avocados exerted a protective effect against skin photoaging by reducing ultraviolet (UV)-induced cellular damage and inflammation in sun-exposed human skin.

  • See Also: Foods that help you look and feel young

Dark chocolate

Despite being a high-calorie, high-fat food, dark chocolate is on the lower end of the glycemic index. It’s also a good source of antioxidants due to its high flavanol content. Flavanols are a type of polyphenol, a class of phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The flavanols found in dark chocolate have been shown to increase blood flow via vasodilation, lower blood pressure levels, and reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

In one recent meta-analysis of 23 studies, eating chocolate lowered the relative risk of heart failure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary heart disease. Upon dose-response analysis, the investigators found 45 g of dark chocolate per week to be the most effective amount for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Furthermore, researchers who conducted a small randomized trial noted that the more cocoa flavonoids healthy participants consumed, the more vasodilatory and blood pressure-lowering benefits they reaped.

In addition to heart health, dark chocolate can offer some benefits with respect to eye health. In another small trial, participants who ate dark chocolate had significantly improved contrast sensitivity and visual acuity for 2 hours following consumption.

Of note, eating too much chocolate, including dark chocolate, will likely negate the health benefits provided by flavanols and may lead to the negative effects correlated with excess sugar and fat intake.

Eggs

Although eggs have long been considered unhealthy due to the high cholesterol and fat content found in their yolks, eating an egg a day is correlated with improved heart health, according to recent research.

For instance, in a study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers, including eggs in a carbohydrate-restricted diet increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and decreased risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome in overweight/obese study participants. Importantly, egg consumption did not raise LDL cholesterol levels.

In another study, researchers found that daily egg consumption was associated with a lower risk of CVD compared with rarely or never eating eggs. In addition, daily egg consumers had a 26% lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a 28% lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke death, and an 18% lower risk for death from CVD. Daily egg consumption was also linked to a 12% lower risk for ischemic heart disease and a 14% lower risk for major cardiac events compared with not eating eggs.

Fish

An integral component of the oft hailed Mediterranean diet, fatty fish—including salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna—are potent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important agent in brain maintenance. Because humans can’t synthesize DHA, we need to get it from our diet. Thus, experts recommend eating a 3-oz serving of fatty fish at least two times per week. In addition to improved brain function, omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been associated with a number of health benefits, including protection against multiple sclerosis, preservation of cognitive integrity, protection against vision loss, and reduction of body weight and fat.

Furthermore, according to results from intervention trials, high intake of lean seafood vs meats may decrease caloric intake by 4% to 9% over the long term, which may help to prevent obesity. Lean seafood consumption may also decrease fasting and postprandial biomarkers of insulin resistance, and increase insulin sensitivity in people who are insulin resistant.

  • See Also: 10 ‘healthy’ snacks you should avoid

Nuts

Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition, rich in vitamins and minerals, low in carbohydrates, and high in fiber, protein, and polyunsaturated fats.

Like fish, certain nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to boost brain power. For instance, in some studies, adults who ate less than a handful of walnuts daily demonstrated improved performance on memory, concentration, and information-processing speed tests. In other studies, eating walnuts was linked to overall brain health and reduced cognitive impairment. In addition to various vitamins and minerals, walnuts are also high in antioxidants, and are the only nut that has a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid—a plant-based essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that must be obtained through the diet and has both cardiovascular and brain-boosting health benefits.

Nuts—again, like fish—can also promote weight loss. Eating nuts tends to result in weight loss, despite their high fat content, because they are filling. In one cross-sectional survey, for instance, high nut consumption was significantly correlated to a lower prevalence of being overweight or exhibiting general and abdominal obesity. However, this observation was specific to women, not men. Nuts in the study included walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds.

Yogurt

Yogurt tends to get a bad rep due to the added sugar that some brands may contain, but with careful selection, it can be a very healthy food choice. Opting for plain, unsweetened, Greek yogurt will garner you the most health benefits. A 3.5-oz serving of plain yogurt, for example, tends to have about 4 g of sugar, 9 g of protein, and an abundance of calcium and probiotic bacteria. Because yogurt is high in protein, it will help keep feeling fuller for longer and, thus, may help to prevent overeating.

In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers examined specific dietary and lifestyle behaviors in three separate cohorts free from chronic disease and not obese at baseline (N=120,877). Participants who ate yogurt consistently had the least amount of weight gain (–0.82 lb) within each of the three 4-year periods evaluated.

Yogurt may also help to reduce the risk of precancerous bowel growth. In a recent study published in Gut, researchers found that in men, eating ≥ 2 servings of yogurt weekly may help reduce the risk of developing adenomas, which precede the development of bowel cancer. Specifically, men were 19% less likely to develop conventional adenomas when they ate at least two servings of yogurt per week vs those who didn’t eat yogurt. And this reduced risk was even greater for adenomas that were likely to become cancerous (26%), and for those located in the colon vs the rectum.

The bottom line

Fat isn’t something to fear or shy away from. Along with carbohydrates and protein, it’s one of the essential macronutrients your body needs to function properly. And a good diet should include a balance of both healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The foods mentioned above are some of the best sources of these fats—but remember: moderation is key. Eating too much of these high-fat foods may lead to adverse health consequences. And be sure to limit the amount of saturated fats you include in your diet, which mainly come from animal sources, while avoiding trans fats (often found in fried foods) as much as possible.

Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

AHA Recommendation

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.

For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat.

That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

What are saturated fats?

From a chemical standpoint, saturated fats are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.

How do saturated fats affect my health?

Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles

What foods contain saturated fat?

Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

Examples of foods with saturated fat are:

In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.

What are alternatives to replace saturated fats in the foods I eat?

To get the nutrients you need, eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • fruits, vegetables,
  • whole grains,
  • low-fat dairy products,
  • poultry, fish and nuts,
  • while limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.

You should replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturate fats. This means eating foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils. It also means eating fish and nuts. You also might try to replace some of the meat you eat with beans or legumes.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats. Should I eat them or not?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats – which are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. Decades of sound science has proven it can raise your “bad” cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease.

The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture. Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. In general, you can’t go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fewer calories.

When you hear about the latest “diet of the day” or a new or odd-sounding theory about food, consider the source. The American Heart Association makes dietary recommendations only after carefully considering the latest scientific evidence.

Eggs are often a topic of conversation. People want to know how many kilojoules or calories they have, how they affect their cholesterol and how much protein is in a single egg.

But just one question lies at the heart of all egg-related questions: are they good for you?

Based on current evidence, the relationship between eggs and heart health is neutral. This means that they neither increase nor decrease the risk of heart disease in most people. Eggs can contribute to healthy meals and are a healthy snack option compared to discretionary foods.

Eggs contain good quality protein and are a source of healthy fats including omega-3 fats.

You can include eggs as part of a heart healthy eating pattern that includes other healthy protein sources like fish, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds, and smaller amounts of poultry. If you have Type 2 Diabetes or high cholesterol, we recommend less than 7 eggs per week.

Eggs and Cholesterol

The cholesterol in eggs has almost no effect on your blood cholesterol levels. Your cholesterol levels are more influenced by the saturated and trans fat you eat.

This means what you eat with your eggs matters.

Eggs are always a favourite at breakfast. So whether you are eating out or cooking at home, keep your egg dishes healthy. Choose wholegrain rather than white bread and leave out the bacon and butter.

If you do eat eggs with a side of bacon, it’s likely the bacon will have more effect on your cholesterol levels than the eggs.

Instead, try eating eggs with vegetables such as spinach, mushroom, tomato and avocado.

A small percentage of people are more sensitive to eating dietary cholesterol than others. This means that when they eat food containing cholesterol, their LDL (bad) cholesterol levels rise more than other people. People who have Type 2 Diabetes, or who have high blood cholesterol should limit their egg consumption to 7 eggs per week. If you want to know what your cholesterol level is and how to manage it, talk to your doctor or health practitioner.

Read more about blood cholesterol.

Tips for eating eggs

  • The healthiest ways to cook eggs is to boil, poach or scramble them.
  • Make a three-egg omelette with capsicum, spinach and mushroom and eat on a slice of grainy bread.
  • Try getting in one to two serves of vegetables when you eat eggs.
  • Eggs make great lunchbox fillers for children and are very portable when hard boiled.
  • Add a chopped up hardboiled egg to the top of a salad.

Check out these healthy egg recipes.

How to eat less saturated fat


Eat well

How to cut down on saturated fat

Practical tips to help you specifically cut down on saturated fat:

At the shops

Nutrition labels on the front and back of packaging can help you cut down on saturated fat. Look out for “saturates” or “sat fat” on the label.

High: More than 5g saturates per 100g. May be colour-coded red.

Medium: Between 1.5g and 5g saturates per 100g. May be colour-coded amber.

Low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g. May be colour-coded green.

This is an example of a label that shows an item is high in saturated fat because the saturates section is colour-coded red.

Aim to choose products with green or amber for saturated fat. There can be a big difference in saturated fat content between similar products.

Pick the one lower in saturated fat. Serving sizes can vary, so make sure you’re comparing like for like. The easiest way to do this is by looking at the nutritional content per 100g.

At home

Spaghetti Bolognese: use a lower-fat mince, as it’s lower in saturated fat. If you aren’t using lower-fat mince, brown the mince first, then drain off the fat before adding other ingredients. Alternatively, mix meat mince with a meat-free mince alternative.

Pizza: choose a lower-fat topping, such as vegetables, chicken, tuna and other seafood instead of extra cheese or cured meats like pepperoni, salami and bacon.

Fish pie: use reduced-fat spread and 1% fat milk to reduce the fat in the mash and sauce. Try this healthy fish pie recipe.

Chilli: use lower-fat mince or mix in a meat-free mince alternative. Or, make a vegetarian chilli using mixed beans, some lentils and vegetables – try this healthy chilli con carne recipe. Beans and lentils can count towards your 5 A Day, too.

Chips: choose thick, straight-cut chips instead of french fries or crinkle-cut to reduce the surface area exposed to fat. If you’re making your own, cook them in the oven with a little sunflower oil and the skins on, rather than deep frying.

Potatoes: make your roast potatoes healthier by cutting them into larger pieces than usual and using just a little sunflower or olive oil.

Mashed potato: use reduced-fat spread instead of butter, and 1% fat milk or skimmed milk instead of whole or semi-skimmed milk.

Chicken: go for leaner cuts, such as chicken breast. Before you eat it, take the skin off to reduce the saturated fat content. Try this healthy lemon chicken recipe.

Bacon: choose back bacon instead of streaky bacon, which contains more fat. Grill instead of frying.

Eggs: prepare eggs without oil or butter. Poach, boil or dry fry your eggs.

Pasta: try a tomato-based sauce on your pasta. It’s lower in saturated fat than a creamy or cheesy sauce.

Milk: use 1% fat milk on your cereal and in hot drinks. It has about half the saturated fat of semi-skimmed.

Cheese: when using cheese to flavour a dish or sauce, try a strong-tasting cheese, such as reduced-fat mature cheddar, as you’ll need less. Make cheese go further by grating instead of slicing it.

Yoghurt: choose a lower-fat and lower-sugar yoghurt. There can be a big difference between different products.

Eating out

Tips to help you cut down on saturated fat when eating out.

Coffee: swap large whole milk coffee for regular “skinny” ones. Avoid adding cream on top.

Curry: go for dry or tomato-based dishes, such as tandoori or madras, instead of creamy curries like korma, pasanda or masala. Choose plain rice and chapatti instead of pilau rice and naan.

Kebabs: go for a shish kebab with pitta bread and salad rather than a doner kebab.

Chinese: choose a lower-fat dish, such as steamed fish, chicken chop suey or szechuan prawns.

Thai: try a stir-fried or steamed dish containing chicken, fish or vegetables. Watch out for curries that contain coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat. If you choose one of these, try not to eat all the sauce.

Snack time: swap foods high in sugar, salt and fat, such as chocolate, doughnuts and pastries, for:

  • some fruit
  • wholegrain toast
  • low-fat and lower-sugar yoghurt
  • a small handful of unsalted nuts
  • a currant bun
  • a slice of fruit loaf
  • a slice of malt loaf

Try these healthier food swaps.

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats

Saturated vs unsaturated fats. Which is healthiest? Since fats or fatty acids, their scientific term, constitute the majority of calories you’ll consume on the diet, let’s take a look at this question.

There are several types of fats/oils that have different effects on the body. They fall into three major groups according to their chemical structure. These include saturated, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The later two are grouped under the “unsaturated” term.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats (SFA) have chemical structures in which the chemical bonds of the carbon skeleton are “saturated” with hydrogen. The result is that saturated fatty acid molecules do not react chemically when exposed to air, heat or light; they are stable and not prone to spoil or turn rancid.

Examples include palmitic acid which is found in lard, butter, and coconut oil. Because they are chemically stable, saturated fats cause very little inflammation within the body.

Here’s a picture of a palmitic acid molecule. The white balls are hydrogen, the black are carbon, the red are oxygen. The straight configuration allows these molecules to pack together tightly so they can remain solid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) have chemical structures which contain one chemically reactive double bond within a mostly saturated molecule. These fats are somewhat stable, but can go rancid more quickly if exposed to air, heat or light.

Examples include oleic acid which is found in beef tallow and olive oil, avocado, macadamia, and hazelnut oils.

Here’s a picture of an oleic acid molecule. Note the molecule bends where the double bond is located. Hence, foods containing large amounts of oleic acid are liquid at room temperature.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) have chemical structures which have many double bonds. They are the least stable of all the fatty acids, and are prone to rancidity when in contact with air, heat or light. There are two types of PUFAs: omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fats in particular tend to be inflammatory to the body. Somewhat less inflammatory are the now famous omega-3 fats found in fish oil and fatty fish.

Examples of polyunsaturated oils include vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower and safflower oils which are mostly omega-6 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), seen below, is an essential fatty acid that must be obtained from the diet. It is found in nuts, seeds and some vegetable oils. Note has the molecule bends at each double bond, which keeps them from being to pack together tightly. Hence, these fats are liquid at room temperature.

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats: Which is Best?

Choosing the right fats to eat is important. Since dietary fats will be a prominent part of your daily meals, they should be chosen with digestive tolerance in mind. Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and egg yolks are tolerated more easily.

Most people cannot handle eating large amounts of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), such as those found in mayonnaise and vegetable oils. Plus these oils are very reactive chemically, so they contribute to free radical activity and inflammation within the body.

In general, in the big picture of saturated vs unsaturated fats, eating more saturated and monounsaturated fats is a good idea. Both are chemically stable to a large extent, so they are less likely to contribute to body inflammation. Replacing saturated fats such as butter with polyunsaturated fats (margarine and vegetable oils) is not beneficial, contrary to what many “experts” will tell you.

Balance Your Polyunsaturated Fat Intake

In addition, your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils should be minimized. This helps you balance your omega-6 intake to your omega-3 fatty acid intake. The balance should be about a 2-1 ratio. Most Americans get way too much omega-6 fat from the processed foods in their diets. Examples of omega-6 PUFA include vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower, safflower, corn, and canola, plus products containing these oils such as mayonnaise and margarine. Omega-3 fats can be found in fatty fish such as anchovies, sardines, salmon, tuna, and grass-fed meats. In general, you only need a small amount of both omega-6 and omega-3 fats, so taking fish oil supplements in large amounts isn’t all that good for you.

A note on most nuts and seeds: with the exception of macadamias, most nuts and seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. The jury is still out on whether they should be limited. As they contain many other micronutrients, their omega-6 content may not be problematic. However, determining whether saturated vs. unsaturated (or polyunsaturated) fats are good for a person is an individual thing. I personally get joint soreness if I eat nuts every day. I know people who eat nuts all the time and feel fine.

A good rule of thumb for PUFA fats is to emphasize fish and grass-fed meat in your meals, limit nuts to a few ounces each day, and avoid vegetable oils as much as possible.

Natural Fats versus Trans Fats

Natural fats and cholesterol from animal foods and tropical fats from coconut and palm seeds are nourishing and should never have been disparaged or limited in our diets. But the research on trans fats definitely shows these unnatural fats can cause health problems.

In addition to the vegetable-oil fats mentioned above, trans fats, which are man-made products associated with hydrogenating commercial seed oils should be avoided. These products are included in many processed foods as a substitute for saturated fats (e.g., Crisco).

To avoid these fats, avoid foods with the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredients listed on the label. Many studies that originally implicated naturally occurring saturated fats in heart disease looked at them in combination with trans fats, and it was actually the trans fats that had harmful effects on cardiovascular health. When studied in the absence of man-made trans fats, naturally saturated fats do not cause heart disease.

Trans fats are finally being phased out of our food supply. This is good news because trans fats worsen the risk of heart disease by lowering HDL cholesterol and increasing LDL cholesterol along with another heart-disease risk marker called Lp(a) or lipoprotein(a), a subclass of LDL cholesterol. Trans fats are also associated with an increased risk for stroke and T2DM. The best way to avoid trans fats is to avoid processed foods altogether.

Coconut Oil and MCTs

Coconut oil is a source of fat on a ketogenic diet that has some special properties. In addition to being a source of long-chain fatty acids, it also contains natural medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs have a chemical structure that allows them to bypass normal fatty acid digestion pathways. MCTs are passed directly from the intestinal tract to the liver. MCTs are not stored in fat cells, so they must be either burned for energy or converted into ketones by the liver.

The addition of small amounts of coconut oil to your diet will help elevate ketones quickly. However, coconut oil or MCTs can cause diarrhea if over consumed. And despite the fact that MCTs cannot be stored in fat cells, when consumed in excess of calorie needs, they can cause weight gain by diverting long-chain fatty acids to storage in fat cells.

Organic coconut oil is much more available now than it used to be. There are many different brands, and you can buy it online at several Internet stores. Unrefined coconut oil has a strong flavor and odor of coconut. If you prefer a milder flavor, but still wish to experience the benefits of including this MCT-rich oil in your diet, look for “refined” coconut oil.

A Fat List

So in the argument of saturated vs unsaturated fats, it’s really better to avoid PUFA and focus on saturated and monounsaturated fats, as they are healthier overall. I’ve marked each item below as to whether they are mostly saturated (S), monounsaturated (M), or polyunsaturated (P). Avoid hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, to minimize trans fat intake. If you use vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, flaxseed, and sesame oils) select “cold-pressed” organic brands and avoid heating them if possible. Keep cold-pressed oils like almond and flaxseed refrigerated to minimize rancidity. Use clean, non-hydrogenated lard, beef tallow, coconut oil, avocado oil, and ghee to fry foods as they have higher smoke points. Many of the unusual fats below can be obtained from various online sources.

Done with Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats

Back to Ketogenic Diet Plan

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Healthy Fats vs. Bad Fats for a Keto Diet

The Keto Diet is predominantly made up of good healthy fat, but not all fats are equal some are bad.

So it is essential that we learn to identify the good fats from the bad to ensure optimal health.

What Are Good Fats For A Keto Diet?

There are several types of fat that we want to consume on a keto diet for their health benefits.

Healthy fats come from a variety of sources. But mainly they are the fats that you’ll find in the keto approved foods we eat day to day.

To figure out which fats are best on a ketogenic diet we first need to identify them by their type.

Types of Good Healthy Fats For Keto Dieting

There are three main types of healthy fats that you should be consuming on a ketogenic diet and one not often mentioned.

  • Saturated Fats
  • Monounsaturated Fats
  • Polyunsaturated Fats
  • “Naturally Occurring” Trans Fats

Note: Many foods contain several types of fat. Such as eggs that contain saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. But most lean toward one type of fat or another.

If unsure of a foods fat content, look up its nutrition by a simple Google search such as: “Eggs Nutrition” or check the label.

Guide to good fats and bad fats on a keto diet. Infographic.

Saturated Fats For A Keto Diet

Saturated fats have been given a bad wrap in recent history as being bad for our health, particularly heart health.

Most of the bad advise on saturated fats is backed by flawed, incomplete scientific studies that ignore the principles of the ketogenic diet.

For instance, a lot of the old research that condemns saturated fats failed to consider or take into account the high consumption of carbohydrates alongside the fat intake of the research subjects.

Of course, when you mix high fat with high amounts of carbohydrate, you’re asking for trouble.

More recent scientific research into high-fat, low-carb diets (LCHF Diets) has proven quite the opposite of those previous findings.

Newer studies show improved health with saturated fat consumption when the subjects maintain the recommended macronutrient ratios of a ketogenic diet.

Improvements such as insulin resistance, lower body fat, reduced bad cholesterol and a whole lot of other health benefits.

Saturated Fats to Include In Your Keto Diet

  • Butter
  • Meat fat (lard, tallow)
  • High-Fat Cheeses
  • MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides)
  • Coconut oil(Extra virgin)
  • Cream
  • Ghee (clarified butter)
  • Eggs

MCT Oil powder is an excellent source of energy, great in coffee, recipes and raises ketone levels fast!

Saturated fats have many health benefits for those on a ketogenic diet.

The health benefits of saturated fats include hormone support, healthy skin, heart health, improved cholesterol (ratio between the good HDL cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol), improved insulin resistance. (And more we list further down the page).

Monounsaturated Fats (MUFA’s) Keto Health Benefits

Monounsaturated fats have been supported by health professionals for quite some time. Even by those who prescribe high-carb diets.

Not only have monounsaturated fats been recommended as a healthy alternative to others, but MUFA’s have also been suggested for heart health and anti-inflammatory properties.

Monounsaturated fats can be found in a variety plant oils such as

  • Avocados
  • Olive Oil (Get Extra Virgin)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Macadamia Nut Oil

Polyunsaturated Fats For Keto (PUFA’s natural)

The main thing to be aware of when consuming polyunsaturated fats is the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.

The perfect ratio of Omega-6s and omega-3s is 1 to 1. However, most modern diets consume 30-35 times the recommended dose of omega-6s.

Too many Omega-6’s and you end up with inflammatory problems, among others.

Another point to make is you should not use polyunsaturated fats for frying or cooking.

When heated polyunsaturated fats form free radicals causing damage to cells and DNA.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat polyunsaturated fats.

Just use polyunsaturated fats in your keto diet over salads and vegetables cold, don’t cook with them.

Best Types of Polyunsaturated Fats For A Keto Diet

  • Fish and fish oil
  • Flaxseed
  • Avocado Oil
  • Various Nut Oils
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds

Healthy Nut Butter with added Coconut Oil & MCTs is perfect for a keto diet.

Health Benefits of Good Fats on a Keto Diet

By now we know that eating healthy fats on the ketogenic diet has a whole treasure trove of health benefits, here’s some in point form.

  • Improve cholesterol levels, raising HDL and minimizing LDL
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Strengthened the immune system
  • Reduces body fat
  • Improved insulin resistance
  • Bone health
  • Supports hormonal balance
  • Prevent inflammation
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease

One More: Healthy Trans Fats (natural)

Yes, healthy trans fat. Generally, trans fats should be avoided and aren’t healthy at all.

But some naturally occurring trans fats found in grass-fed beef, and cream aren’t chemically altered and are healthy.

The best way to avoid bad trans fats is to identify what foods they’re in.

Bad Fats To Avoid On A Keto Diet

The worst kind of fats you can eat on a ketogenic diet are artificially processed trans fats.

Some trans fats are banned by many government health departments (such as the US FDA).

Artificial trans fats are made through a chemical process by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils.

Trans fats have been used in the past to increase the shelf life of supermarket foods.

Restaurants have also used trans fats as a cheap alternative to natural oils due to their long used by date and affordability.

Why Are Processed Trans Fats Bad?

Processed trans fats have been shown to raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower good HDL cholesterol.

Diets high in trans fat consumption have a higher incidence of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and strokes.

Products High in Processed Trans Fat

  • Margarine
  • Fats found in processed foods with long shelf lives such as cookies & cakes
  • Many seed oils such as canola, sunflower, and cottonseed

Studies have shown hydrogenated trans fats to be linked to cancer, mental disorders, heart disease, obesity and a plethora of other conditions.

Ensuring that you’re careful about selecting healthy fats for cooking and avoiding processed foods will see you in better health.

It’s important to stick to your ketogenic ratios of 70 percent “healthy” fat, 25 percent protein and 5 percent carbs.

Selecting healthy fats for your ketogenic diet is just as important as sticking to your macronutrients.

Resources:

Now that you’ve learned the difference between good and bad fats you should have no problem making the correct decisions for a healthy keto diet.

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The 6 Biggest Keto Diet Mistakes

Ask any keto diet devotee and they’ll tell you that the high-fat, low-carb eating plan delivers real results: Many people who follow the restrictive plan lose weight, and unlike with other diets they may have tried, they don’t feel hungry or deprived.

But the keto diet also has its downsides. For starters, its entire premise is based on a complex metabolic state known as ketosis, in which the body is forced to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. It’s not easy to send the body into ketosis, says Melissa Bailey, RD, a clinical dietitian at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, or to keep it there for an extended period of time.

“Even in the hospital under strict controls, when we send patients into ketosis for medical reasons, it can be extremely difficult to do,” says Bailey. “On your own, it’s virtually impossible to do it consistently.”

Nutritionists aren’t the only ones who say going keto can be difficult. Online forums and blogs are filled with stories of newbie keto mistakes and misconceptions, as well. Here are a few of the biggest blunders people tend to make–and the biggest concerns health experts have.

RELATED: 7 Dangers of Going Keto

Eating too much saturated fat

The keto diet limits people to just 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates a day and encourages increasing fat intake to make up for the missing calories. That already goes against most nutritionists’ recommended ratio for a balanced diet, says Bailey—but it’s even more concerning when people choose mainly saturated fats to fill that gap.

“I know people following keto, and a lot of times I’m seeing that there’s a lot of bacon in their day, or a lot of really processed meat,” says Bailey. “And those things are super-high in sodium and super-high in saturated fat, which can really affect your cardiovascular health.”

Although the evidence linking saturated fat to heart disease has been mixed, one of the largest and most recent studies on the topic found that people who ate the most saturated fat were 18% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who ate the least. The U.S. dietary guidelines currently recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of your daily calories.

“If people want to follow this diet, there’s a way to get that extra fat in your diet but still choose healthy fats,” Bailey says. “But not enough people are taking that extra step.”

RELATED: Your Ultimate Keto Grocery List

Missing out on important nutrients

Eliminating entire foods or food groups—like milk or grains, both of which are off-limits (or close to it) on the keto diet—can lead to deficiencies of certain micronutrients, says Bailey. Dairy is a good source of calcium, for example, while bread and cereal are often enriched with iron or magnesium.

“When you’re limiting those sources, you’re not going to get the same nutrients by eating bacon and steak,” says Bailey. “Anytime you eliminate something from your diet, I recommend talking to your doctor or a nutritionist about taking a supplement in its place.”

Then again, Bailey adds, supplements often contain glucose or other types of sugar as filler ingredients. (Some prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals do, too.) “In some cases, taking supplements or medications can actually keep people from achieving ketosis,” says Bailey, “which goes back to the idea that achieving ketosis really isn’t an easy or sustainable goal.”

RELATED: 5 Supplements You Should Take If You’re on the Keto Diet

Not drinking enough water

It’s important to stay hydrated on any diet, but keto dieters often cite this as one big mistake they’ve made when they started on their new plan. A big part of the drop in pounds that people see in their first few weeks comes from lost water weight, says Bailey; if that water doesn’t get replenished, it can lead to constipation and contribute to the crappy feeling known as keto flu.

Overdoing it on artificial sweeteners

When a commenter on Reddit recently asked people to share their biggest keto screw-ups, several chimed in with warnings about maltitol, a sweetener used in many keto-friendly products. (Low-carb snack bars containing the ingredient were “delicious,” one person pointed out, “but the incoming gastrointestinal apocalypse is not worth it.”)

It’s true that maltitol and other sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea and bloating, especially when consumed in large quantities. That’s one reason it’s a good idea to choose whole foods or homemade meals over processed and packaged foods with long lists of ingredients, says Bailey, even when you’re going keto.

RELATED: This Woman Says the Keto Diet Destroyed Her 17-Year Marriage—and Now Her Story Is Going Viral

Consuming more carbs than you think

Cutting back on carbs sounds fairly simple: Just stop eating bread and pasta, right? That’s a good start, but in reality, there are lots of other foods that contain carbohydrates—including some that are traditionally thought of as proteins or fats.

“Didn’t know milk is not keto,” one commenter wrote on that same Reddit thread. “I was chugging milk like there’s no tomorrow whenever I had a sugar crave .” Another commenter shared a similar anecdote: “Ditto! How many carbs can be in a sugar-free latte?! Lots.”

The problem with keto, says Kristen Kizer, RD, a dietitian at Houston Methodist Medical Center, is that there’s not a lot of room for this type of error. “Overconsumption of carbs is definitely very easy,” she says. “And if you’re eating carbs and not realizing it—unless you’re really monitoring your ketones regularly—you’re going to fall out of ketosis and not know it.”

RELATED: 9 Fruits You Can Actually Eat on the Keto Diet

Expecting long-term health benefits

The keto diet does produce fast results, Kizer admits: People tend to lose weight quickly, which is one reason the plan is so popular. But, she notes, they almost always gain it back when they try to transition from keto to a less restrictive, more sustainable way of eating.

Even more worrisome, she adds, is the fact that people initially tend to lose both fat and muscle. The pounds they gain back, on the other hand—due to changes in their muscle mass and metabolism—tend to be a higher percentage of fat.

Bailey agrees that the benefits of the keto diet, besides short-term weight loss, are questionable. “There are no long-running studies to show what this is doing to our overall health,” she says, “and we know that if you’re eating a lot of saturated fat, it could actually be harmful.”

That’s why Bailey doesn’t recommend the keto diet for weight loss or general health reasons, even temporarily. “And if you really are passionate about giving it a try, ask your doctor or a nutritionist to help you come up with a plan that includes healthy foods in healthy proportions,” she says. It is possible for most people to follow a low-carb diet in a way that’s not harmful, she adds, “but it does take work and smart choices.”

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