Healthy Fats – What Are They, Foods To Eat And Avoid, And Benefits

Written by Charushila Biswas • 

Consuming healthy fats is extremely important for better health. Healthy fats like poly and monounsaturated fats help lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and improve heart health (1). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and WHO recommend a total energy intake of up to 30% from fats while limiting the consumption of saturated fats (less than 10%) and trans fats (less than 1%) (2), (3). So, it is clear that not all fats are bad, and some fats may even enhance heart health. This article talks about what healthy fats are and 15 whole food sources of healthy fats to improve your health, skin, and hair. Take a look.

What Are Healthy Fats?

Healthy fats are mainly categorized as unsaturated fats. They can have either single (monounsaturated) or multiple (polyunsaturated) double bonds in their chemical structure. These fats are liquid at room temperature and become solid or soft-waxy when chilled.

The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help lower LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol (healthy cholesterol), protect from heart disease and stroke, fight certain cancers, and maintain cell structure (4), (5).

On the other hand, saturated fats are fats that have no double bond in their chemical structure , and their consumption should be limited to keep cholesterol lab values within normal limits. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (6).

Trans fats are more dangerous fats that are found in abundance in the modern-day diet. Trans fats are not required in our diets, but we do find some natural sources of trans fats in some dairy products such as cow, sheep, or goat milk. Trans fats are mostly found in the American diet through un-natural sources such as hydrogenated oils and fats that are used to fry foods or are added into packaged foods. These pose serious health risks when consumed regularly in large quantities (7). Here’s a list of trans fats foods that you must avoid: fried foods, margarine, shortening, and packaged goods with trans fats listed on the nutrition label.

Main Idea: Healthy fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for your health. Some saturated fats are also natural, but you should not exceed the recommended limit.

Now that you have a better understanding of healthy fats and not-so-healthy fats, let’s get to listing out the healthy fat food sources. Swipe up!

1. Avocados

Image: Shutterstock

The nutty and buttery avocados are a great source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are high in calories, and about 77% of the fruit is fat. They are also rich in potassium, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. The nutritional profile makes them an excellent source of healthy fats that help improve cardiovascular health, lower the risk of weight gain, and promote healthy aging (8). Consuming avocados may be correlated with helping prevent neurodegenerative diseases and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome (9), (10).

Consume avocados in salads, smoothies, on toasts, as guacamole, or just as it is to help include a dose of healthy fats in your diet while curbing your hunger and improving your health.

2. Whole Eggs

Whole eggs (eggs with yolk) are a great source of water-soluble (B vitamins) and fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) (11). We know that egg whites are a great source of protein, but the yolk contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals that may help to strengthen the bones, reduce oxidative stress, help manage hypertension, fight certain types of cancer, aid brain development, and prevent hyperpigmentation (12), (13).

Consume 3 whole eggs per week by adding them to salads, curries, sandwiches, baked foods, boiled, poached, or fried.

NOTE: Avoid consuming egg yolk if your cholesterol level is high, and it has been confirmed that you genetically absorb more cholesterol than normal, or if your doctor doesn’t approve of it.

3. Fatty Fish

Fatty Fish
Image: Shutterstock

Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, hilsa, silver carp, trout, sardines, and herring are loaded with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (14). It is important to consume omega-3 fatty acids as the typical American diet may have an imbalanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. Ideally, the ratio should be 1:1, but overconsumption of unhealthy foods may have shot the ratio to 15:1 – 16.7:1 (15). Fatty fish omega-3 aids healthy aging, protects from heart disease and stroke, helps in weight management, reduces cancer risk, and improves brain function (16), (17).

The EPA recommends that pregnant women consume no more than 8-12 oz of fish per week, with mercury content being the main concern. Non-pregnant adults may consume slightly more, or as per your doctor’s recommendation. It is best to consume wild-caught fish. Add it to curries, salads, and sandwiches.

4. Nuts

Nuts like macadamia, pistachio, walnut, almonds, and pine nuts are energy-dense, packed with vitamins and minerals, and are great sources of unsaturated fatty acids. As nuts are so nutrient-dense, consuming too many of them may increase your energy intake above what it needs to be. However, the consumption of nuts can help reduce oxidative stress, hypertension, and inflammation, help manage weight, and fight cancer (18), (19).

Consume a palmful of nuts as a snack or add them to smoothies, salads, dips, and breakfast bowls. The healthy fat will help keep you satisfied and fuller longer than most typical snacks.

5. Ground Flax Seeds

Ground Flax Seeds
Image: Shutterstock

Flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals (30). They protect you from cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders, fight cancer, and lower the risk of diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis (31).

Add ground flax seeds to salads, dressings, smoothies, and juices.

6. Seeds

Seeds like chia seeds, sunflower seeds, melon seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, protein, vitamin A, and various minerals (21). Chia seeds and sesame seeds may also have cholesterol-lowering properties (22), (23).

Consume a handful of mixed seeds in your salad, salad dressings, sandwiches, breakfast bowl, and smoothies. Avoid consuming any of the seeds mentioned if you are allergic to it.

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Image: Shutterstock

Extra virgin olive oil is an important component of the Mediterranean diet, and it is now being used extensively all over the world due to its immense health benefits. Touted as one of the healthiest oils, olive oil is a great source of healthy fats and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and heart disease (24).

Prepare salad dressings with olive oil or make it your go-to oil for cooking.

8. Cheese

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If you have been avoiding cheese thinking that it only provides “bad fats”, this is not true. Cheese is calorie-dense , but it is a good source of calcium, prebiotics, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and peptides (20). Cheese is a good source of protein and may also be a good snack choice alongside fruit, veggies, or some crackers. Yes, overconsumption of cheese may have an adverse effect on your health, but in moderation, cheese can help strengthen your bones and reduce hypertension.

Consume different types of cheese in soups, salads, and with snacks to keep your hunger in control and get your daily dose of healthy fats.

9. Full-Fat Yogurt

Full-Fat Yogurt
Image: Shutterstock

Full-fat yogurt is another good choice when you want to incorporate healthy fats into your daily diet. Low-fat yogurt is low in calories, but limiting the fat in the yogurt may also limit the vitamins, minerals, and benefits as well. Scientists have found that consuming high-fat yogurt can help promote a healthy weight by allowing more satisfaction with the food choice and keeping you fuller longer than lower fat yogurt may (27).

Consume full-fat yogurt as a great snack. Or make salad dressings, smoothies, breakfast bowls, prepare marinades, and add it to curries.

10. Full-Fat Milk

Full-fat or whole milk is more nutritious and healthier compared to low-fat milk for the same reasons that full-fat yogurt may be more beneficial. . Full-fat milk is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids and may help you manage weight by increasing satiety and fullness (28), (29).

Consume full-fat milk in the morning with breakfast, add it to smoothies, and breakfast bowls.

11. Olives

Olives are a great source of healthy fats just like olive oil and and may help lower inflammation, strengthen immunity, protect the DNA, reduce oxidative stress, and soothe allergies.

You may consume olives in salads, sandwiches, stews, curries, etc.

12. Soybean And Tofu

Soybean And Tofu
Image: Shutterstock

Soybean and tofu are great sources of polyunsaturated fats and protein. Soybean and soy products may help protect the heart, improve skin health, and strengthen the bones (35).

Consume soybean and tofu in curries, dal, salad, and sandwiches.

13. Grass-Fed Pork And Beef

Lean cuts of grass-fed pork and beef are great sources of iron, B vitamins, and beneficial unsaturated fatty acids, and antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione (32). The profile of fats in the meat from animals that are grass fed is more beneficial than non-grass fed meat because it typically contains less saturated fat. However, beef and pork do contain higher amounts of saturated fats than chicken, turkey, and fish.

Consume lean cuts of grilled or pan-seared meat with dark leafy veggies.

14. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and has gained popularity as a healthy oil. It is widely used as a cooking oil and is an essential ingredient in the recently popular bulletproof coffee (25). MCT has been found to aid weight management by increasing the ability to produce ketone bodies (when the consumption of carbs is limited) and could potentially help your body learn how to use fat as energy, beginning with the fat you consume in your diet like MCT oil (26). However, there are risks with coconut oil consumption, and too much may increase saturated fat intake and have adverse effects on LDL cholesterol values without any added benefits. So, you must talk to your doctor before consuming coconut oil.

It is good to include a variety of fats, and coconut oil may be used occasionally as a cooking oil or in salad dressings.

15. Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate
Image: Shutterstock

Dark chocolates are rich in flavonoids and many minerals. These help protect the heart by improving blood flow and lower the risk of obesity and diabetes type 2 by increasing insulin sensitivity (33). Dark chocolate may also be a very satisfying snack to some and therefore can also regulate hunger by increasing satisfaction (34).

Consume a piece of 80% or more dark chocolate after dinner twice a week. You can also add it to smoothies and breakfast bowls.

These are the 15 healthy fats-rich foods that will help improve your immunity, hair, skin, and overall health. So while some fats, such as saturated fat, may be harmful to our health, there are several healthy fat options listed here for you to try. But remember, consuming too much fat (even the “healthy fat”) may not be beneficial either! But if your diet does not consist of many healthy fats right now, go ahead and start adding these good fats to your diet and protect yourself and your loved ones from most lifestyle-related diseases. Take care!


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