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Sources of healthy fats include salmon, avocado, olive oil, nuts and chia seeds. Photo credit: JuliaMikhaylova / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Your body requires fat from your diet to function: absorbing nutrients, giving you energy, keeping you warm and supporting cell function. Including high fat foods in your diet also slows down carbohydrate digestion which aids gut health, satiates your appetite and adds flavor to your food.

In the 1940s, a diet high in fats got a bad reputation when scientific studies linked it to high cholesterol levels. A low fat diet trended for decades until the paradigm finally shifted as a more moderate approach to the importance of varying your diet took hold. 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, make up many well-balanced, colorful and healthy meals. Here are ten of the best sources of these unsaturated, high fat foods.

1. Avocado

Avocados contain a high amount of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, that provides several benefits to your health — especially when consumed as a part of the Mediterranean diet, according to a 2020 research article published in Frontiers. The oleic acid in avocado oil may help guard against chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Avocados are also rich in fiber and meet around half of your daily fiber requirements. Females require 25 grams of fiber and males require 38 grams of fiber daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. They are also a good source of protein, and the lutein in avocados benefits eye health.

You can replace saturated fats with avocado, such as using smashed avocado in place of mayonnaise and butter. It’s a savory, versatile fruit that makes a great dressing for a salad or an addition to a morning shake. 

2. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds pack several rich nutrients into a small size. Chia seeds contain antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium and iron, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Did you know that chia seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids? 

Omega-3s provide the body with several benefits, from relieving arthritis symptoms to reducing triglycerides in your blood. One 2014 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition infers that chia seed flour may reduce high blood pressure.  

Top salads and smoothies with chia seeds. You can also use them as a vegan egg replacement in baking. Let a tablespoon of chia seeds sit in 2.5 tablespoons of water for a few minutes, and you have one egg replacement once the mixture coagulates.

3. Dark Chocolate

Turn to dark chocolate since it’s packed with healthy fat, antioxidants and nutrients and has been shown to stave off cravings for processed sweets. Dark chocolate is also a good snack source of magnesium. 

Eating dark chocolate could reduce your risk for heart disease. Participants who consumed chocolate at least five times weekly had the lowest risk of all those studied of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a 2011 study published in Clinical Nutrition.

Include dark chocolate in your baked goods since it contains a rich amount of flavonoid antioxidants. Look for organic cocoa that contains at least 70% dark chocolate.

4. Fatty Fish

The American Heart Association recommends that people consume two servings of fatty fish each week. Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that benefit brain and heart health. Here are some examples of fatty fish to include in your diet:

  • herring
  • fresh tuna (not canned)
  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • trout

Eating two meals a week containing fatty fish will help you make the most of these health benefits. However, you should avoid fish high in mercury, such as swordfish.

5. Eggs

Most people know eggs as a good source of protein, but eggs are also a good source of healthy fat and nutrients, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The yolk contains choline which supports the functions of your brain, nerves, muscles and liver. It also contains lutein that we previously noted benefits eye health.

Eggs have also gotten a bad reputation for adversely impacting cholesterol levels in the past. However, recent research reveals the opposite. For example, a 2018 study published in Heart revealed that eating up to a single egg a day may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease as observed in 0.5 million Chinese adult participants.

Add eggs to your diet by experimenting with cooking poached eggs and fluffy omelets with roasted vegetables, which are just a few healthy ways to eat eggs.  

6. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds offer a solid source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing your fiber content also makes you feel more full, and flaxseeds are so small that you don’t have too eat many to achieve that. Flaxseeds are rich in lignans, a plant protein that produces antioxidant and estrogen effects. 

Include flaxseeds in your diet by blending them into baked goods, a smoothie or yogurt.  Flaxseeds also enrich the mouthfeel and taste of vegetarian burgers, offering a nutty bite.

7. Nuts

Nuts are one of the most convenient and healthiest sources of protein, fats, fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants in your pantry. Including more nuts in your diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol, according to Harvard Health. 

A five-year study followed over 373,000 people and found that that those who regularly consumed nuts were less likely to gain weight or become overweight or obese in the long-term. The study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2017.

Every nut contains a different nutrition profile, so you should consume a variety of nuts. Add nuts to casseroles, salads, smoothies, brownies or trail mix.

8. Nut and Seed Butter

Tasty, convenient and overlooked sources of healthy fats are spreadable nut and seed butters. Including them in your diet offers a way to get the benefit of both nutritional sources, including an excellent amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The only downside to eating nut and seed spreads is that they tend to have high calorie content. Limit each serving to two tablespoons, such as on a slice of toast or in your morning smoothie. These spreads also make a good dip for apple slices.

9. Olives

Olives are a classic staple of the Mediterranean diet. Black olives are a good source of  monounsaturated fats and fiber, but processed olives may contain high levels of sodium.

Oleuropein is a beneficial compound found in olives that researchers suggest could mitigate complications in the treatment of diabetes, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The compound assists the body with secreting more insulin and purifying amylin, a molecule that contributes to the development of diabetes. According to the study’s findings, oleuropein also reduces oxidative stress and regenerates tissues.

Include more olives in your diet by building a charcuterie board with olives, making a tapenade or adding them to pasta dishes.

10. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin K. Extra virgin olive oil has been linked to potentially lowering risks of heart disease in those who present high risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association reports that consuming more than one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil daily could lower one’s risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Extra virgin olive oil is excellent to add as a dressing to many snacks and meals, and it also has a lower smoke point than many other oils.

These ten healthy fat foods are excellent resources of nutrition that may decrease risk factors for chronic disease and other health concerns. Limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fats in your diet. Share any concerns about adding high fat foods to your diet with your primary doctor or a registered dietitian before making changes, as you may have an unknown sensitivity to certain foods.

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Many types of potato chips contain MSG. Photo credit: Irina Marwan / Moment / Getty Images

Monosodium glutamate is one of the most widely-used and controversial food additives approved by the FDA. MSG is categorized as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food products, but some people choose to avoid it for fear of adverse health effects. The FDA specifies that MSG must be listed on the nutrition label as an ingredient. 

According to Harvard University, various scientific sources have repeatedly confirmed that MSG is safe when consumed at ordinary levels by the general public. The university estimates that the public consumes an average of 11 grams of glutamate per day, a naturally occurring source found in many proteins, and less than one gram every day from the additive MSG.

What Is MSG?

MSG is a sodium salt derived from glutamic acid, one of many amino acids essential to the protein in naturally-occurring foods. It’s also referred to as glutamate, the free-form version that acts as a neurotransmitter in the body and is linked to brain development.

While naturally occurring, glutamate can function as an enhancer when isolated from other amino acids. MSG is simply the sodium salt of the amino acid, made of sodium, water and glutamate. 

Which Foods Commonly Contain MSG?

Monosodium glutamate comes from a larger group of chemicals called glutamate, one of many essential amino acids. It is a vital part of many protein-containing foods, such as milk, cheese, fish, meat and many vegetables. Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes are particularly high in this substance. MSG is also used as an additive in processed foods and fast food, especially Chinese food.

MSG emphasizes the natural flavor of food and has no texture or flavor on its own. It was recognized as a flavor enhancer by Japanese researchers in 1908, first discovered by chemist Kikunae Ikeda, and has since become one of the most widely used additives in food production. Ikeda identified its unique taste as “umami,” a new addition to the common tastes of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Here are six everyday foods that contain MSG along with potential health concerns.

1. Fast Food

Fast food, particularly Chinese food, is one of the most common sources of MSG. “Chinese restaurant syndrome” is characterized by itching, headache, hives, throat irritation or swelling and belly pain after eating Chinese food containing large amounts of MSG, according to a 2017 study published in the Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine. Researchers analyzed a case where a patient experienced severe symptoms that included an inability to speak and difficulty swallowing saliva. Researchers indicate that this condition may pose a life-threatening risk as the more severe symptoms take hours to appear. Chinese restaurant syndrome symptoms were first recognized in patients as early as 1968.

Some Chinese restaurants have stopped using MSG or have limited its use. However, others continue to include large amounts of MSG in their dishes, such as fried rice. Another point to consider is that many niche Asian restaurants cannot alter certain recipes because soy sauce or other blended sauces that contain MSG are essential to palatability.

Fast food restaurants like Burger King, Chick-fil-A and Kentucky Fried Chicken also use MSG as a flavor enhancer. In 2019, a Chick-fil-A spokesperson told Today that its chicken nuggets, classic chicken sandwich and spicy chicken sandwich contain MSG, but that it was researching MSG-free options for those sensitive to the additive.

2. Chips and Other Snacks

What’s your favorite brand of chips? Look closely at the ingredients label because you may find it contains MSG. Pringles and Doritos are just a few examples of chips that contain MSG. 

MSG enhances the savory and contrasting flavors of many chips. It’s also why your chips may taste a little saltier, aside from sodium content. Many types of corn and potato chips may contain MSG, but snack mixes, like trail mix, may also list it as an ingredient on the label.

3. Condiments 

Condiments like soy sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressing commonly contain MSG. A low level of MSG in condiments shouldn’t pose a risk on its own. 

However, many condiments also contain a consortium of unhealthy additives such as preservatives, artificial colors and added sugar that can affect or worsen health conditions. Harvard Health reports that food coloring additives can worsen ADHD symptoms in children.

Overall, it’s best to buy condiments that are made with whole foods and fewer ingredients. You can also make your own condiments, such as this five-minute apple cider vinaigrette.

3. Seasoning Blends 

Seasoning blends infuse marinated meats, vegetables, soups, stews and tacos with a savory and salty taste. It’s a quick way to get an umami flavor affordably while avoiding excess salt. 

MSG seasoning is included in many meat, fish and poultry rubs to enhance palatability. However, it can be more affordable and healthier to create your own signature barbecue rub in the long run.

4. Processed Meats

Processed meats like hot dogs, lunch meats, beef jerky, sausages, smoked meats, pepperoni and meat snack sticks contain MSG.

Aside from enhancing taste, MSG is added to meat products like sausage to reduce the sodium content without changing the flavor.

One 2014 study published in Food Science of Animal Resources reported that substituting sodium with MSG in pork patties brought out the salty flavor and palatability of the product without adversely affecting taste.

5. Frozen Foods 

Frozen meals provide a fast and affordable way to ensure you get a meal in after a long day. However, some frozen meals may also include extra additives, including MSG, to make up for a loss in fresh taste.

Frozen foods that contain MSG include breakfast meals, frozen dinners, mac and cheese and frozen pizzas. A balanced diet should consist of whole foods, limiting processed foods.

5. Soups

Quick soup mixes and canned soups may contain MSG to enhance the savory flavors that buyers crave. Campbell’s is one such soup product that contains the controversial additive.

Other products manufactured for the convenience of quickly making soup also contain MSG, such as bullion cubes and dried soup mixes.  

6. Instant Noodle Products

Instant noodles are a savory staple for those making it to their next paycheck and college students alike. This convenience food is simple and filling, but the ingredients may also contain preservatives, refined carbohydrates and excess salt aside from MSG content.

Interestingly, Harvard University researchers found a 68% increased risk of metabolic syndrome among women who ate instant noodles at least twice a week. These results were not found in male participants, however, according to a 2018 study published in Nutrition Research and Practice.

Is MSG Harmful?

Excessive MSG consumption has been linked to blood sugar fluctuations, inflammation, obesity, nerve damage and behavioral concerns in animal studies. 

In humans, MSG consumption may contribute to weight gain, increasing satiety and food intake. This results in elevating your risk of metabolic syndrome, according to a 2017 review published in the International Journal of Food Properties. It’s better to consume less MSG rather than going overboard as this can significantly increase your risk of being overweight. 

Making sure your MSG intake is low is the best way to ensure that you maintain a balanced diet and keep risk factors for chronic disease low, as more human studies are needed in this area. On the nutrition label, ingredients are listed in order of predominance. 

Another consideration is that MSG is often included in processed foods, and if your diet is heavy on processed foods, this can adversely affect your health. Follow your doctor’s recommendations concerning eating a balanced and varied diet and always check in regarding any questions or concerns regarding additives.

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Red fruits of hawthorn. Fotofreak75 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Hawthorn grows as both a shrub and tree across North America, Europe and Asia. As a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family, it protects itself with sharp thorns. Hawthorn possesses a somewhat overlooked medicinal secret: Hawthorn berries, packed with both a mild sweetness and a tangy tartness. From heart tonic to anxiety relief, here are five health benefits of hawthorn berry.

1. It’s an Ancient Tonic for Heart Health

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Hawthorn berry is known as a heart tonic, and recent research shows that these “fire berries” are cardioprotective.

A 2018 review published by the NIH National Library of Medicine names hawthorn berry as a cardiotonic herb. Hawthorn berries contain phytonutrients (anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins), antioxidants that tonify and strengthen blood vessel walls. The plant presents positive inotropic and negative chronotropic effects as well as a rise in coronary blood flow and exercise tolerance.

Hawthorn extracts including the berries, leaves and flowers are also used to treat such heart conditions as bradyarrhythmia and angia, according to a 2016 report published in Nutraceuticals. However, hawthorn in general may increase the potential for bleeding in patients who take antiplatelet or anticoagulant agents. 

Should you take hawthorn berries for palpitations? While hawthorn berries have shown to be a cardiotonic, consult your doctor before incorporating this herb into your treatment regimen, including extracts or teas. 

2. It Acts as a Digestive Aid

Hawthorn berries contain fiber, a digestive aid that acts as a prebiotic to decrease constipation. Prebiotics induce and nurture the growth of good gut bacteria essential for a healthy digestive system. 

Hawthorn (its berries, leaves and flowers) have been found helpful in the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases and other digestive issues, according to a 2015 critical review published in Nutrients that analyzed 88 scientific papers. The review shows that hawthorn presents useful applications for the treatment of abdominal pain, diarrhea, distension and indigestion. The paper notes its use as an effective diuretic in the European tradition.

3. It May Help Prevent Hair Loss

Hawthorn berry is listed as a natural ingredient in some hair care and hair growth products, but is it effective? In the past, hawthorn berry has shown promise in stimulating the growth and size of hair follicles in rats. The polyphenol content in these berries is believed to cause these effects. However, further research on the effects in humans is needed.

How do you use hawthorn berry in your hair? Many people prefer to include hawthorn berries in their diet, such as making hawthorn berry syrup for pancakes and absorbing the nutrients that way. Others invest in over- the- counter natural hair care products like hawthorn berry butters or tonics. 

David Hoffmann, BSc, a founding member and past president of the American Herbalists Guild, recommends making tea by steeping a teaspoon of hawthorn berries in a cup of hot water and then straining it before consuming. He advises not to exceed three cups a day. A consultation with an herbalist can give you more guidance, but you should first talk to your doctor about using such complementary treatments.

4. It Fights Free Radicals

Free radicals are unstable atoms linked to aging, chronic disease and cancer. The 2015 scientific literature review of 88 papers published in Nutrients noted that hawthorn berries contain significant amounts of polyphenols, an antioxidant compound that fights free radicals. Aside from the antioxidant capacity of polyphenolic compounds, they also are protective against inflammation and other markers for chronic disease.

5. It Could Reduce Anxiety

Hawthorn extracts may contain compounds from the berries, flowers and leaves of the hawthorn plant that help reduce anxiety. One older double-blind study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion analyzed a formulation of hawthorn extract, California poppy flower, and magnesium and its effects on 264 people with anxiety. The results revealed a significant reduction in mild to moderate anxiety levels compared with the placebo. However, the specific role that hawthorn played was not analyzed in depth.

The NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also notes the promotion of hawthorn for use in anxiety treatment.

Does Hawthorn Berry Contain Any Nutrients?

Yes. According to the third edition of The Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients, hawthorn berry is rich in many beneficial chemical compounds and nutrients, including:

  • Acetylcholine
  • Chlorogenic acid
  • Caffeic acid
  • Choline
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin C

What Are the Side Effects of Taking Hawthorn?

Hawthorn berry supplements often contain the berry, flowers and leaves. The NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Indicates that the most common side effects of taking hawthorn may include nausea, dizziness and digestive symptoms. Those taking anticoagulants should avoid consuming hawthorn.

Always consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian before adding any supplements to your diet. Many products have different dosage recommendations, and your healthcare provider can best direct you as they know your medical history.

Tiffany Chaney is an environmental and wellness writer dedicated to advocacy, ethics, and transparency. Chaney holds a BA in creative writing from Salem College and completed an apprenticeship in western herbalism and Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Tree of Life Wellness Center and Piedmont Herb School in Winston-Salem, NC. She is also a published creative writer and artist, currently living in Virginia.

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