It wasn’t long ago that we blamed fat for all of life’s ails. Sure, fat can make you gain weight and contribute to chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and stroke. But not all fats were created equal. In fact, as you’ve probably heard, certain types of fat are actually good for your health.
So which “fattening” foods should you be eating?
“While it’s a good idea to limit saturated fats (found in cheese, meat, butter, sausage and desserts), you need fat to aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, E, D and K,” says Registered Dietitian Patricia Bannan, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. A bonus: Fat makes you feel full for longer periods of time.
The key is focusing on the good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and eliminating the bad fats (trans and saturated fats). Here are a few of Bannan’s favorites:
Sure, avocados are high in fat—perhaps that’s why they’ve earned the nickname “butter pears”—but most of the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated, the heart-healthy kind that actually lowers bad cholesterol. In recent years, the U.S. government has even revised its official nutrition guidelines to urge Americans to eat more avocados. Moderation is still key, since one medium avocado boasts 30 grams of fat. Try substituting avocadoes for butter or cream cheese, or replace the mayo on your sandwich with avocado slices.
Eggs are an inexpensive and easy source of protein. People often think eggs whites are a healthier option than whole eggs because they contain less fat, and while it’s true that the egg yolk contains some fat, it’s also packed with important nutrients. One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat, but only 1.5 grams are saturated. Whole eggs are also a good source of choline (one egg yolk has about 300 micrograms of choline), an important B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system and cardiovascular system. And while there’s a lot of buzz about the cholesterol in eggs, research has linked moderate egg consumption to improved heart health.
Olive oil is commonly used in the Mediterranean diet (one of the most recommended for a healthy lifestyle), and we’ve all heard that olive oil reduces the risk of heart disease, blood pressure and certain types of cancer. However, it still packs 100 calories per tablespoon, so moderation is important if you’re watching your weight. A recent study published in Neurology found that cooking with heart-healthy olive oil and using it for salad dressing may cut stroke risk.
Your best bets for nutrition are almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Almonds are the richest in vitamin E; walnuts contain a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid; and pistachios have lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. Research shows nut eaters are generally thinner, less likely to develop type 2 diabetes and have a reduced risk of heart disease to boot. In terms of getting the most from your snack, pistachios win hands down. One of the lowest-fat nuts, you get 49 pistachios in a 1-ounce serving, compared to 23 almonds or 14 walnut halves.
Nut butters are another source of healthy fats, and peanut butter is just the beginning—try almond or cashew butter if you’re feeling adventurous. All of these butters boost protein and fiber intake. Just be forewarned, some are high in added sugars. Choose all-natural nut butters with as few ingredients as possible. Bannan likes almond butter jars that contain “dry roasted almonds” as the sole ingredients. Some may also contain sea salt.
The term “fatty fish” may sound unappealing, but actually, these are the healthiest and most delicious foods from the sea. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout are full of omega-3 fatty acids—good fats, unlike the bad saturated fat you find in most meats. According to the American Heart Association, people should eat at least two servings weekly of lake herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon, sardines or tuna for the healthy omega-3 fats they contain.