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.
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:
- fresh tuna (not canned)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.