Healthful high-fat foods are not something to shy away from. The body needs a certain amount of fat from the diet to aid hormone function, memory, and the absorption of specific nutrients.
Including healthful fats in a meal also creates a sense of fullness, slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, and adds flavor to food.
The most healthful fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Read on to discover the best sources of these fats and learn the difference between healthful and unhealthful fats.
One 201 gram (g) avocado contains approximately 29 grams (g) of fat and 322 calories. It is high in a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid, which is believed to provide several health benefits.
Avocados are high in fiber, with one fruit providing 13.5 g of the recommended 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males per day. Avocados also contain a substance called lutein, which may be necessary for eye health and are a rich source of potassium.
How can I add avocado to my diet?
- Use avocado in salads or to replace less healthful saturated fats, such as mayonnaise and butter.
2. Chia seeds
Although they are small in size, chia seeds are rich in several nutrients. One ounce (oz) of the seeds contains 8.71 g of fat, much of which is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are, in fact, one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3.
Omega-3 can relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and reduce triglycerides in the blood, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
How can I add chia seeds to my diet?
- Use chia seeds in smoothies, soak them overnight for a ready-made breakfast, or mix them with water to make a vegan egg-replacement in cooking.
3. Dark chocolate
Eating just 1 oz of dark chocolate can be enough to stave off sweet cravings, while providing a good amount (9 g) of healthful fat, as well as other nutrients, such as potassium and calcium. Dark chocolate also contains 41 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, which is approximately 13 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult females.
Dark chocolate is also very rich in flavonoid antioxidants, with one test reporting that cocoa powder contains even more antioxidants than blueberry powder.
Some research suggests that eating dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease in people in the United States. Participants who ate chocolate 5 or more times a week had the lowest risk of all those studied of developing cardiovascular disease.
According to a 2012 study carried out on older people with mild cognitive difficulties, eating dark chocolate may also improve brain function.
How can I add dark chocolate to my diet?
- Select good-quality dark chocolate — at least 70 percent cocoa — to ensure a high level of flavonoids.
Eggs are a popular source of protein, especially for vegetarians. Traditionally, people believed that egg whites were the more healthful part, but the egg yolk actually contains several important nutrients. Each 50 g hard-boiled egg boasts 5.3 g of fat, 1.6 of which are saturated, and just 78 calories.
While older studies have suggested that eggs increase cholesterol, newer research disputes this. A 2018 study carried out on Chinese adults, for example, reported that up to 1 egg a day might lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
How can I add eggs to my diet?
- Start the day off with a vegetable-packed omelet, or top a pasta dish with a poached egg to add some protein and healthful fats to an otherwise carbohydrate-heavy dinner.
5. Fatty fish
Fatty fish are packed with unsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in heart and brain health. The American Heart Association recommend that people eat 2 servings of fatty fish each week. Options include:
- fresh (not canned) tuna
For example, 1 oz of mackerel contains approximately 15 g of fat and 20 g protein.
Avoid high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, King mackerel, and tilefish. To avoid overexposure, stick to 12 ounces (2 average meals) of fish and shellfish weekly.
How can I add fatty fish to my diet?
- Serve baked fish with rice and vegetables, enjoy tuna in sushi rolls, or flake warm salmon over a salad.
Flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids and a healthful dose of fiber at the same time. Each 2-tablespoon serving contains almost 9 g of fat, which is almost entirely unsaturated, and 5.6 g fiber.
The fiber content can increase the feeling of fullness and may reduce cholesterol. Flaxseeds are also very rich in lignans, a type of plant compound that has estrogen and antioxidant effects.
Research suggests that high intakes of dietary lignans may decrease cardiovascular disease risk in some people, but more research is needed to confirm it.
How can I add flaxseeds to my diet?
- Blend flaxseeds into a smoothie, sprinkle them on yogurt or oatmeal or use them in baked goods for a nutty flavor.
Nuts have many benefits, according to several studies. They are rich in healthful fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytosterols that may help prevent cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
A 5-year study of more than 373,000 people, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, reported that people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to gain weight or become overweight or obese in the longer term.
There is approximately 14 g of fat in 1 oz of almonds, 19 g in Brazil nuts, and 18.5 g in walnuts. It is best to eat a variety of unsalted nuts to reap the benefits, as each type of nut has a slightly different nutrient profile.
How can I add nuts to my diet?
- Enjoy nuts as a snack or toss them in salads for a flavorful crunch.
8. Nut and seed butter
Enjoy the benefits of nuts and seeds in a spreadable form by using nut butter. Each serving provides a healthful amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
These delicious spreads can be high in calories, however, so try not to eat more than 2 tablespoons per serving.
How can I add nut butters to my diet?
- Choose a nut butter that is free from added sugar, salt, and oil, and spread it on rice cakes, bread, or sliced apple.
Recent research reports that a compound in olives called oleuropein may help prevent diabetes. Researchers found that Oleuropein helped the body secrete more insulin, while also purifying a molecule called amylin that contributes to diabetes development.
Olives can be high in sodium, though, so 5 large or 10 small olives are considered a standard portion.
How can I add olives to my diet?
- Olives are extremely versatile — people can eat them as a snack, make them into a tapenade, or toss them into whole grain and pasta dishes.
10. Olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats that are good for heart health. It also contains vitamin E, vitamin K, and potent antioxidants. Extra-virgin olive oil has associations with a lower risk of heart disease and death in those with a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
How can I add olive oil to my diet?
- Use olive oil regularly, but sparingly, in cooking and dressings — a single tablespoon contains 14 g of fat and 120 calories.
Tofu is a complete plant protein and a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 100 g serving of firm tofu provides just over 4 g of fat. This amount of tofu also provides one-quarter of a person’s daily calcium intake, along with 11 g of protein.
How can I add tofu to my diet?
- Replace red meat with tofu in many meals to reduce saturated fat intake. Also, use tofu to increase the protein content of vegetarian stir-fries and curries.
Full-fat natural yogurt contains good probiotic bacteria to support gut function. Regularly eating yogurt may reduce weight gain and obesity and improve heart health, according to observational studies.
Research published in 2016 found that consuming yogurt five or more times a week may reduce high blood pressure in women by 20 percent.
Choose full-fat natural or Greek yogurt and avoid those that have added sugar.
How can I add yogurt to my diet?
- Enjoy yogurt with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit as a healthful breakfast, snack, or dessert.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are healthful fats that might:
- benefit the heart
- lower LDL cholesterol
- improve insulin levels
- improve blood glucose levels
MUFAs and PUFAs also fight inflammation.
The two most well-known PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fats that people must get from the food they eat because the body is unable to make them. Studies have linked omega-3 fats to many health benefits, especially the prevention of heart disease and stroke.
As a general rule of thumb, healthful fats — such as olive oil — are liquid at room temperature.
Saturated fats and trans fats, on the other hand, are considered unhealthful fats. Foods rich in these substances, such and butter and lard, are often solid at room temperature.
Older research reported that saturated fat had a negative impact on cholesterol levels and heart health, but newer studies suggest it is not as bad as once thought. However, most health organizations still recommend limiting saturated fat in the diet and replacing them with MUFAs and PUFAs.
Always avoid trans fats. Artificial trans fats, listed on labels as partially hydrogenated oils, are extremely unhealthful. They trigger inflammation that may increase the risk of:
- heart disease
- many other health conditions.
Even just 2 percent of calories from trans fats daily can increase the risk of heart disease by 23 percent.
The following foods contain trans fats:
- fried foods
- frozen foods, such as pizzas and pies
- baked goods
Fat is one of the three essential macronutrients the body needs, along with carbohydrates and protein. A balanced diet should include healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Some of the best sources of these fatty acids include avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. People should also be sure to limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet and avoid even small intakes of trans fats.