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Choosing healthy fats
Yes, it’s true. Eating (certain) foods high in fat can actually be good for your health. But remember, not all fats are created equal. Enter: “good” fats and “bad” fats.
Foods with good healthy fats are considered to be monounsaturated (nuts, avocado, etc.) and polyunsaturated (salmon, trout, etc.) fats that promote good heart health. Meanwhile, saturated (poultry skin, lard, etc.) and trans fats (fried foods, baked goods, etc.) are seen as bad fats because they can increase cholesterol levels and lead to heart problems, among other health conditions. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have foods with bad fats, but you should eat them in moderation.
Below, we spoke with registered dietitians and nutritionists to help identify which high-fat foods reap the most health benefits.
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“If you’re like me, you think peanut butter is important stuff,” says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, author of The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook. “It’s a heart-healthy food that seems decadent but is actually healthy and satisfying.” White suggests choosing a nut butter with a minimal ingredient list—so just peanuts and salt, when possible. “Slathered onto a banana, peanut butter is a great pre-workout snack, and it can also be combined with rice vinegar, garlic, and low-sodium soy sauce to make a dipping sauce for grilled chicken or sautéed tofu,” she says. The nut butter is also delicious mixed into a smoothie or energy bites.
“I love them, and they love you,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, a clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University and host of the health and wellness podcast SpotOn! “While black olives are about 90 percent fat, it’s the healthy fat! I add them to salad because they also add fibre.” Black olives also taste great in a pasta dish or this classic French salad.
“Nearly all the fat in avocado is the monounsaturated type, which is heart-healthy,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, in Boston. “Avocado is naturally low in sodium and rich in potassium, so it helps with blood pressure control. It also supplies several B vitamins, as well as vitamin E and vitamin K.” Include avocado in a healthy avocado smoothie, salad, or breakfast parfait.
This seafood is known for the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids it provides. “Salmon combines lean protein with healthy fat,” notes Heather Steele, RD at Reasor’s Foods in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Omega-3s can help with inflammation and also with reducing your risk of chronic disease.” Enjoy salmon in stuffed cucumber rolls, a grilled burger, or ceviche.
Yup, cheese is on the list of beneficial high-fat foods. “Few foods are more satisfying and delicious than cheese—especially a full-fat, naturally aged one,” says Regan Jones, RDN, in Augusta, Georgia, and host of the podcast This Unmillennial Life. “The richness pairs so well with fruits and veggies, two food groups most of us need to eat more of. Plus, as a rich source of calcium and protein, cheese actually offers a nutrient boost to any meal.” Pair cheese with apple chutney, add to turkey-stuffed tomatoes, or enjoy a parsnip cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Remember to eat cheese in moderation—i.e., a 1-ounce portion or less.
“This is my favourite heart-healthy fat,” says Bonnie Nasar, RDN, in Freehold, New Jersey. “It is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Extra-virgin olive oil can be drizzled onto salads and cooked vegetables—and even used in baked goods.” Also add olive oil to this chocolate ganache.
One of the top high-fat foods, eggs, are full of good-for-you nutrients, including the eye-helping carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. “I cook seven or so at a time and eat a hard-cooked one with breakfast or lunch,” says Judy Barbe, RD, in Casper, Wyoming. “Eggs are easy and economical, and their protein and fat make them a go-to food.” Enjoy eggs on their own—or add them to a breakfast sandwich or salad.
Dark chocolate is one of the top high-fat foods. “Most of us don’t think of chocolate as a health food, but it provides that perfect little treat when eaten in moderation,” says Cassidy McCandless, RDN for Quincy Medical Group in Quincy, Illinois. “Dark chocolate also provides trace nutrients like copper and selenium, while being an excellent source of antioxidants.” Enjoy it in homemade fondue, chocolate tart, or energy balls. (Check out these other healthy dessert recipes.)
“One of my favourite fats is full-fat Greek yogurt,” says Leanne Ray, MS, RDN in Denver. “Regular Greek yogurt is so much more satisfying to me than the non-fat variety, so it holds me over for hours when I eat it for breakfast. I also love Greek yogurt for its hefty amount of protein and calcium.” (Here are some healthy toppings worth adding to your yogurt.)
Here’s another oil to eat more of. “This is a healthy fat that has a light, neutral flavour and a high smoke point up to 485 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Toby Amidor, RD, in New York City, who recommends Thrive Algae Oil. “It has the highest level of monounsaturated fat of any cooking oil—one tablespoon provides 13 grams of monounsaturated fat, the same amount you’d find in an avocado,” says Amidor, a nutrition partner with Thrive Algae Oil. “Algae oil is also a sustainable cooking oil, with a low carbon and water footprint.” Swap it out for the olive oil in this tahini-lemon dressing.
“I add ground flax seeds to my baking because I love knowing that I’m getting an added boost of fibre and anti-inflammatory ALA omega-3s,” says Jean LaMantia, RD, in Toronto. “Worried about phytoestrogens in flax? Don’t be. In research, these compounds have been shown to be protective against hormone-positive cancers, such as breast cancer.” Add flax seeds to triple-berry cornmeal muffins or almond butter energy bites.
“A combination of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and protein make cashews a filling snack option,” says Cassidy Reeser, RDN, in Atlanta. “Cashews are also a good source of magnesium, which plays an important role in heart and bone health. The high-fat content of cashews makes them great for blending into creamy sauces or vegan cheeses.”
Next, check out these strawberry recipes that’ll sweeten up your summer.