Add Heart-Healthy Fats to Your Diet

Gooey melted butter, crispy poultry skin, rich and creamy Alfredo sauce, thick gravies, fragrant bacon, buttery and flaky pie crust—the list of delicious, fatty items goes on and on. But, for many of us, the thought of these high-fat foods is equally exciting and despairing. The joy of indulgence but the regret of eating too much may leave us feeling guilty afterward. Do we need to feel this guilt? Is there a way to still feel both healthy and satisfied?

By knowing the difference between "good" fats (unsaturated) and “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats), we can be armed with information to make healthy choices, satisfying our cravings with the good kinds and limiting the bad.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are extremely bad for our health as they aim to lower our healthy cholesterol (HDL) and increase our bad cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides). Eating trans fats increases our risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the guidance is to have zero grams of trans fats per day. You find these fats mostly in items that have the words “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated” on their labels—margarine, fried or fast foods, frozen pizza, crackers, pastries or other baked goods. The FDA banned trans fats from being added to foods since 2015, and trans fats were required to be out of all foods by 2018.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats have always gotten a bad rap, but a little bit of this type of fat is still good for us. The American Heart Association recommends that we get less than 10% of our diet from saturated fat. Saturated fats are naturally occurring fats that are found in animal and dairy products—fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, lard and cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or 2% milk. Tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter also are saturated fats. However, not all saturated fats are bad for us, and this is where the reintroduction of higher fat dairy products have come into play in the past couple of years. The kind of saturated fat found in dairy foods is actually more of a heart-healthy type, and this is why we hear that whole milk, whole milk yogurts and hard cheese are fine to be added back into our diets in small quantities.

Unsaturated Fats

The tried-and-true healthy fats that we do want to include in our diet on a regular and frequent basis are unsaturated fats. These fats are so beneficial for us that they help decrease our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some cancers and aid in weight management. The three types of unsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA).

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
    Omega-3s can help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health by increasing “good” (HDL) cholesterol and decreasing “bad” (LDL and triglycerides), promote normal functions of the brain and nervous system, protect against eye disease and help reduce inflammation in the body.  Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as wild, pacific salmon; tuna; mackerel; trout; herring and sardines. Other good sources include walnuts, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
  • Monounsaturated fats (MUFA)
    These fats specifically help lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. MUFAs include olive oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, olives, avocados, nuts and 100% natural nut butters.
  • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA)
    PUFAs work to lower LDL cholesterol. They include walnuts, ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, fatty fish and some vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean or corn oil.

Heart Heart-Healthy Fats

  • Avocados.
  • Fatty fish—wild, pacific salmon; tuna; mackerel; trout; herring and sardines. Aim to eat 2–3 times per week.
  • Nuts—walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, peanuts, hazelnuts.
  • Nut butters—100% natural peanut or almond butters.
    • The label should only have the nut and, possibly salt, as the only ingredients.
    • You will need to stir them and then store in the refrigerator.
  • Oils—extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil.
  • Olives
  • Seeds—ground flaxseed, chia, sunflower, pumpkin (pepitas).
    • Flaxseed must be in the ground form in order to get the beneficial properties of it. You can either buy it already ground or buy it in whole seed form and grind it in a coffee grinder.

Ways to Add Heart-Healthy Fats to Your Diet

  • Replace red meat with fish 2–3 times per week.
  • Add avocado to your eggs, salads or sandwiches.
  • Use guacamole as a dip for raw veggies.
  • Enjoy 1 oz. (1/4 cup) of nuts as a snack.
  • Add nuts or seeds to salads.
  • Smash some avocado and spread it on your toast.
  • Add salmon or tuna to salad.
  • Drizzle olive oil, avocado oil or walnut oil on your cooked or grilled vegetables or salads with a fresh squeeze of lemon or lime.
  • Mix ground flaxseed or chia seeds, along with chopped walnuts or sliced almonds into your morning oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Add 100% natural almond or peanut butter to a smoothie.
  • Have 100% natural peanut or almond butter on toast at breakfast.
  • Enjoy “ants on a log” again as an adult—celery sticks with 100% natural peanut butter and raisins.
  • Make a trail mix that includes raw almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and dried blueberries.
  • Use avocado in place of mayo in chicken or tuna salad.
  • Use grapeseed oil instead of canola or vegetable oil in your baking and cooking.
  • Mix in ground flaxseed into baked foods, meatloaf, taco meat, pancake or waffle mix, and smoothies.
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