THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON SELF.
Fat’s not the enemy, if you’re smart about it.
Most people have been trained to choose low-fat foods over high-fat foods. Fat has always been positioned as a dietary enemy, so it’s no wonder it can get totally confusing when doctors and dietitians sing the praises of what they call healthy fats. You probably know that avocado is one of them, and that this nutrition revelation is responsible for their rise from guac staple to Instagram stardom in recent years. And of course there’s olive oil, the lynchpin of the Mediterranean Diet. But there are plenty more healthy, high-fat foods you should definitely be working into your meals and snacks on a regular basis. Here’s what you ought to know.
First, a quick breakdown of what “healthy fat” actually means.
The phrase “healthy fat” usually refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. What makes them healthy is that, among other heart-health benefits, they help reduce LDL cholesterol, the kind that clogs your arteries. Research also shows they can benefit insulin and blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Monounsaturated fats are among the healthiest of all fats,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietician at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF. “These are anti-inflammatory, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and are full of healthy nutrients.”
Polyunsaturated fats can also be healthy. The two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fats our bodies need for brain function and cell growth. Omega-3s are beneficial for every aspect of heart health, and are mostly found in fish and algae, nuts, and seeds. “Other polyunsaturated fats, [omega-6s], can be found in certain plant-based oils,” Hunnes adds. “They’re not particularly harmful, but not necessarily beneficial the way omega-3s and monounsaturated fats are.” Omega-6s work alongside omega-3s to lower LDL cholesterol, but research suggests that eating more omega-6 than -3 may contribute to inflammation and weight gain, so the key is to make sure your omega-3 intake is always higher.
And what the unhealthy fats are.
One easy rule: You should always avoid trans fats—they’re listed on the nutrition label as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Most are artificial and raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol (the good kind that helps keep blood vessels clear). According to the American Heart Association, trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
The guidance on saturated fat is a little more complicated. Old nutrition research said saturated fat was really bad for your cholesterol levels, but newer information suggests it has a more neutral effect. The topic is very touchy, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead. Many of the healthy foods below have some saturated fat in them, but it doesn’t make up the majority of the fat content and won’t negate the positive effects of the healthier fats.