Favorite Healthy Fats
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Favorite Healthy Fats

If you are looking for new ways to improve both the health of your diet and the enjoyment you get out of your meals, look no further than healthy fats. Healthy fats are very different from their processed cousins. When eaten in moderation, they can help you lower bad cholesterol, shed excess weight, build shiny hair and strong nails, and lower your risk of disease. A list of familiar favorites and newer options, along with shopping tips, appears below. 

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which raises levels of good cholesterol while lowering the bad. They are also packed with vitamin E, which helps fight free radical damage, boost immunity, and act as an anti-aging nutrient for your skin. For pregnant women, avocado is one of the best folate foods. Even if you don’t care for avocados, you can use its oil in place of less healthy oils. It has a high smoke point, so it is great for grilling and frying.

Instead of margarine, which includes truly unhealthy trans fats, reach for butter. Butter, especially when made with cream from grass-fed cows, includes omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which improve brain function and skin health. Butter is also rich in fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals, including beneficial selenium, a powerful antioxidant.

Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest, not readily stored by the body as fat and small in size, allowing them to infuse cells with energy almost immediately. Coconut oil can help improve brain and memory function. It also has a high amount of natural saturated fats, which means it increases good cholesterol and promotes heart health. Finally, it has a powerful antioxidant, making it an effective anti-inflammatory food. Choose wisely, though: Extra virgin varieties are best, as refined or processed coconut oils can eliminate many of the health benefits.

Consumption of extra-virgin olive oil has been linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels, and improved blood vessel function. It contains high amounts of antioxidants that protects your cells from damage and also helps improve memory and cognitive function. When purchasing, beware of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter. Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council, avoid “blends,” and opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation.

Varieties of fatty fish—like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies—are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are absolutely crucial to health. These fats are considered essential fatty acids because the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own, which means we must rely on omega-3 foods in our diet to supply these key compounds. Don’t like fish? Consider supplementing with fish oil, cod liver oil, or a vegetarian alternative like algal oil.

Regular consumption of nuts and seeds can help lower bad LDL cholesterol to keep your arteries clear and your heart healthy. They are considered brain foods, and certain types are even recommended to help improve mood and defeat depression. Many options include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts. For seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds are two of the top choices. They’re both high in fiber and fat but low in carbs. When purchasing nut butters, avoid those with added sugars and fillers.

Contrary to decades of popular belief, eggs also don’t raise bad cholesterol levels. In fact, consuming eggs can actually lower cholesterol while improving heart health. A nutrient called choline found in eggs is also helpful at keeping our brains in tip-top shape. A higher consumption of eggs can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including factors like excess body fat, high blood sugar levels, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Having any of these conditions makes you more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes. When purchasing, opt for free-range eggs, which have been shown to be higher in healthy fats and contain more omega-3s.

MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil is relatively new on the nutrition scene, but there might be something to the sudden craze. You can add the oil to coffee, use it in homemade salad dressings, or add it to smoothies. These triglycerides are easily digested and sent to the liver, where they can give your metabolism a kick-start. This is a great option if you are looking for a new nutritional powerhouse to try.

High in fat and rich in antioxidants, dark chocolate can help protect our bodies from disease-causing free radicals. The flavanols found in dark chocolate also improve heart health, thanks to their ability to lower blood pressure and get more blood flowing to the heart and the brain. It’s also brain food that could actually help improve cognitive performance! Choose varieties that contains at least 70 percent cacao or higher. This minimizes the amount of sugar and means you’ll be getting a solid antioxidant boost.

There are so many delicious ways to incorporate healthy fats—along with whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables—into your diet. Try one today!

 Kristin Irace, RD, is a registered dietitian with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.

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