Healthy fat sources: why we need them
There’s a common misconception that eating fats will make people fat. For years we’ve been told that eating fat will extend that waistline, increase cholesterol, and cause a multitude of health problems.
But much like all the other macronutrients your body needs to function, you need some fat to perform at your best. You should also know that not all fat is the same and healthy fat sources do exist.
So, what do fats do you in your body and why do we need them?
Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which your body can’t make itself. The most beneficial fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Bad fats, like saturated fats and artificial trans fats, are the ones you should try reducing in your diet.
We need fats to help our bodies absorb vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E. Not only that, but fats help provide energy, maintain muscle movement and support cell growth.1
Looking for the healthiest high-fat foods to support your wellbeing? We’ve done the hard work for you. Here are 8 of the best healthy fat sources you should add to your diet.
8 healthy fat sources
- Dark chocolate
Aside from being a treat to stave off sweet cravings, dark chocolate provides 9 grams of healthful fat as well vitamins and minerals like, iron, potassium and calcium2 3.
The fats in dark chocolate are mainly saturated and monounsaturated and some saturated fat. However most of its saturated fat is stearic acid — which research says doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels as much as other saturated fatty acids4.
Dark chocolate is also packed with antioxidants and compounds that benefit your health. These include flavanols, polyphenols and catechins. Studies even suggest that cocoa and dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than other fruits like blueberries5.
This popular stone fruit is said to be higher in fat than most animal foods6. About 77% of the calories in avocados are fat, with the main healthful fatty acid a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid.
A 201-gram avocado provides 29g of fat and 332 calories7. Studies have linked oleic acid as an anti-inflammatory8, providing benefits in preventing metabolic diseases and even cancer prevention9.
As well as providing healthful fats, avocados are packed with a variety of minerals and vitamins, including B vitamins 1, 2 and 3 which help your body convert food into energy. You also get a good amount of potassium from avocados which supports overall heart health10.
- Oily fish
Fish – particularly fatty fish – are loaded with heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, high-quality proteins and other key nutrients. Omega 3 is significant for heart health, optimal body and brain function and is thought to reduce a multitude of diseases11.
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids which have been linked to reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of heart disease12. Your body can’t create them so it’s essential you get them from your diet.
A 100-gram portion of farmed salmon contains 2.3 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids13 as well as a variety of B vitamins14 and potassium15.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also said to help the brain generate nerve cells. This makes omega-3s essential for learning and memory and may help ward off (or at least slow down) age-related cognitive decline16.
Nuts are nutritious and loaded with healthful fats, making them one of the best healthy fat sources available. Not only this, but they also contain a high amount of protein, fiber, vitamin E and magnesium which can all contribute to better overall wellbeing17.
A 28-gram serving of mixed nuts contains 16 grams of fat, including 9 gram of monounsaturated fat18.
Research has shown that people who eat nuts regularly tend to have a lower risk of developing diseases including heart disease19 and type 2 diabetes20. They’re also less likely to become overweight in the longer term21.
- Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the least-processed, freshest olive oil available. This fatty oil is one of the key components of the Mediterranean diet which offers lots of health benefits22 23.
A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains approximately 14 grams of monounsaturated fats and 126 calories. Alongside, you get vitamin E and K24 which are powerful antioxidants essential for optimal body performance.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol markers, boosting heart health25.
- Chia seeds
These miniscule seeds pack a powerful punch when it comes to nutrition. Despite being small, they provide an excellent amount of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, calcium and a variety of antioxidants26.
A 100 gram serving of chia seeds contains over 30 grams of fat, with 23 grams polyunsaturated fat and 17 grams omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming a high intake of omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation in your body, promote recovery after workouts and reduce your risk of heart disease27.
Chia seeds are considered the best plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids – more so than flax seeds28 29.
Like olive oil, olives provide a significant boost of healthy fats for your body. 100 grams of ripe, canned olives contain just over 10 grams of fat, with nearly 8 grams of monounsaturated fats30.
Olives contain up to 15% fat. 74% is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which is touted to lower inflammation in the body, supporting optimal performance and recovery31.
Olives are rich in antioxidants, providing benefits such as boosted immunity and reduced risk of chronic illness32. You also get a good variety of vitamins and minerals from olives, including vitamin E, iron and calcium.
This whole, young soybean is a popular plant-based snack and provides numerous health benefits. A 64 gram serving of shelled edamame provides 4.5 grams of fat as well as 9 grams of plant-based protein33. 1.5 grams is polyunsaturated fat.
Edamame provide you with all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein versus food sources like grains and nuts34. What’s more, it’s a good source of vitamin K and calcium. We need vitamin K to regulate our metabolisms and support blood clotting35. And we all know calcium is crucial for bone health.
What fats should you avoid?
It makes sense to make you aware of the fats you should be avoiding – or limiting. Here are the fat sources you should try eliminating from your diet:
These fat are commonly added to many foods because it spoils more slowly. Doctors say artificial trans fats can lead to increased cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and even diabetes36.
Primary sources include:
- Commercially-baked pastries – like cookies, doughnuts, cakes, pizza dough
- Packaged snack foods – such as crackers, microwave popcorn, chips
- Fried foods – including French fries, fried chicken
- Margarine and vegetable shortening
- Some meat and dairy – where it’s naturally occurring
Saturated fat isn’t as harmful as trans fats, however too much can have serious consequences on heart health and it’s best to try and limit your consumption. Experts recommend that saturated fats should contribute to 10% or fewer of your calories37. For an individual who consumes about 2,000 calories daily, that’s 200 calories, or about 23 grams of saturated fat.
Primary sources of saturated fats include:
- Red meat – such as beef, lamb, pork
- Chicken skin
- Full-fat dairy products – like milk, cream, cheese
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
The bottom line
Eating fats isn’t unhealthy. In fact, your body needs them. As one of the three essential macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and protein, fat stores energy, insulates us, regulates processes and aids absorption of important nutrients.
If you include a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, you should have a nice balanced intake. This list of healthy fat sources is just a start – there are many sources of healthy fats.
You can eat fats, but just be sure you’re not overdoing it. And make sure your saturated fat intake only makes up 10% of your daily calories.
Start eating the right types of fat today to enhance your overall wellbeing and performance in the gym. You’ll notice a huge difference!