Are you afraid of fats? If so, you’re not alone. Fat in foods has been vilified in America for the past few decades, as low-fat and non-fat foods became the norm, and we were told that a low-fat diet would help us get the body we want. In fact, it’s one of the biggest nutrition lies that the public’s been told.
In other parts of the world, fat has always been welcome at the table. In the U.S.? We’re only now realizing the truth: Not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need fat — more specifically, they need healthy fats.
How Did We Get Here?
How did fats get on the naughty list to begin with? Post-World War II, research began emerging that seemed to link foods with saturated fats, like eggs and red meat, to coronary heart disease. By the 1960s, the American Heart Association had recommended that people reduce their fat intake, and in 1976, the U.S. Senate held a series of committee meetings, “Diet Related to Killer Diseases,” on the topic. Subsequent food guidelines advocated for eating less saturated fat and more carbohydrates. The war on fat had begun.
While the guidelines advocated for more carbs in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, what the average American understood was that carbs — any kind of carbs — were good (even refined carbohydrates!) while fat was bad. The food industry pounced: High-carb, low-fat foods became the norm. Grocery store shelves and refrigerators were soon lined with low- and no-fat items that were packed with sugar — because without any natural fat, a lot of favorite foods just didn’t taste good anymore. Not coincidentally, both a sugar addiction as well as an obesity epidemic in America began soon after low-fat diets became the standard recommendation. (1)
The problem? None of the studies actually linked high-fat diets to heart disease. The science just wasn’t there. In fact, numerous studies have since debunked the myth. It’s been proved there is no evidence that dietary saturated fat increases a person’s risk for coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. (2)
Additionally, a seven-year study of more than 48,000 women showed that low-fat diets don’t lead to more weight loss or less disease. (3) And yet another study found that, when subjects ate either a Mediterranean diet, low-fat diet or low-carb diet, those following a high-fat, low-carb meal plan not only lost the most weight, but also drastically reduced their bad cholesterol levels. (4)
It turns out our ancestors were right all along: Healthy fats can be good!
The 11 Best Healthy Fats for Your Body
Not all fats are created equal, but the ones below pack a lot of punch. From lowering bad cholesterol and helping shed excess weight to giving you shiny hair and healthy nails, your body will reap the benefits of these healthy fats.
The benefits of avocados are so numerous that they’re one of the healthiest fruits you can consume. They’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which raise levels of good cholesterol while lowering the bad — talk about a double-whammy. Avocados are also packed with the benefits of vitamin E, which help prevent free radical damage, boosts immunity and acts as an anti-aging nutrient for your skin.
Plus, it’s chock-full of healthy protein; in fact, it has more than any other fruit. For pregnant women, avocado is also one of the great folate foods, as this vitamin can help reduce the risk of birth defects.
Get more avocados in your diet and try one of these avocado recipes. Or use it to cook with by adding avocado oil into your kitchen. It has a mild taste that won’t overpower dishes the way other oils might. Its high smoke point of about 520 degrees means that it’s suitable for grilling or frying. And because it isn’t solid at room temperature, it’s a tasty choice to drizzle on salads, sandwiches or veggies.
2. Butter & Ghee
We’re all familiar with “butter-like” substances; margarine, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and all those other “vegetable oil spreads” found in stores. But real butter — preferably raw or from grass-fed, organic sources — is what you should reach for.
Another victim of the war on fat, butter’s experiencing a comeback as a healthy fat as the benefits of butter become more widely known. The omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids found in butter help your brain function properly and improve skin health. More importantly, these two fatty acids are considered essential, meaning the body needs them but can’t produce them on its own; they must be derived from food sources. Butter’s also rich in fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals, including beneficial selenium, a powerful antioxidant.
Because of its low burning temperature — about 250 degrees Fahrenheit — butter is not great for cooking at high temperatures. To use it at high temperatures safely, butter must be emulsified by melting the butter over low heat until the milk and butterfat separate, and then pouring out the milk solids. Since much of butter’s decadent taste comes from the milk solids, however, the downside of emulsifying is that the taste just isn’t the same.
If you want to save yourself the trouble and still get that buttery flavor, instead use butter in baked goods and spread on fresh-baked bread (including gluten-free varieties) or add a dollop to roasted veggies.
Meanwhile, the Indian version of butter is quickly becoming a favorite across continents. Ghee, or clarified butter, is simmered to bring out butter’s naturally nutty flavor, leaving it with a high smoke point, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. Ghee benefits include being loaded in fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. These types of vitamins are best absorbed by your body when they’re in a fat substance and then stored in your gastrointestinal tract, keeping your metabolism and digestion on track.
Another ghee benefit? It’s lactose- and casein-free. If you suffer from lactose sensitivity or intolerance, ghee is a fantastic alternative to butter. Its high levels of vitamin K2 also helps strengthen bones, while the fatty acids found in it improve digestion and reduce inflammation. No wonder it’s been used for thousands of years!
You can make your own ghee or buy it in stores. When purchasing it commercially, look for organic or grass-fed cultured ghee. This healthy fat remains fresh for several weeks at room temperature. Increase its longevity and keep it spreadable by storing it in the refrigerator.
3. Coconut Oil
One of my favorite oils because of its numerous benefits — did you know you can use coconut oil on your skin and coconut oil for your hair — the benefits of coconut oil are many. It’s rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest, not readily stored by the body as fat and small in size, allowing them to infuse cells with energy almost immediately.
These fatty acids also improve brain and memory function. Plus, the high amount of natural saturated fats in coconut oil mean that it increases good cholesterol and promotes heart health, while the antioxidants found in coconut oil make it an effective anti-inflammatory food and help reduce arthritis.
Adding coconut oil to your diet is easy; I love using it for cooking and baking, or even applying it directly on my skin. Beware that when cooking directly with coconut oil, the flavor can be a bit overpowering for some. If that’s the case, try using less of it. It’s also important to note that, at room temperature, coconut oil is solid, so it’s not the best choice when you need a healthy fat in liquid form, like as a salad dressing.
When choosing a coconut oil, I recommend extra virgin varieties, as refined or processed coconut oils can eliminate many of the health benefits.
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil benefits are so profound that any diet should include it. First, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for heart health. In fact, a 2013 study found that when people supplemented a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil, it reduced the incidence of heart attack or dying of heart disease, probably due to its high levels of monounsaturated fats. (5) The high amount of antioxidants in EVOO means it protects your cells from damage. It also helps improve memory and cognitive function, and works as an anti-inflammatory. Since so much disease stems from chronic inflammation, this is a biggie!
Unfortunately, buying this healthy fat isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. First, note that I recommend only extra virgin varieties of the oil. This means no chemicals are involved when the oil is refined. Unfortunately, many common brands are fake olive oil! A 2011 study by UC Davis found that many top-selling brands failed the standards for extra virgin olive oils; lawsuits against olive oil companies have followed suit. (6)
Some tips for recognizing real EVOO are to beware of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter; look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council; check the harvesting date on the label; if it’s labeled as “light,” “pure” or a “blend,” it isn’t virgin quality; and finally, opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation.
EVOO isn’t recommended for cooking at high temperatures because of its low smoke point, but it’s terrific for making salad dressings or drizzling over breads or cooked foods.
5. Omega-3s from Fish
Why are omega-3 fatty acids considered essential? Because the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own. Therefore, we must rely on omega-3 foods in our diet to supply these extremely beneficial compounds.
There are actually three different types of “omega-3s”: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The preferred sources of omega-3s are DHA and EPA, the kinds found in seafood sources like nutritious salmon and sardines. (7) ALA, on the other hand, is found in some plant foods, including certain nuts and seeds, as well as high-quality cuts of meat like grass-fed beef.
The human body is able to turn ALA into usable DHA and EPA to some degree, but this isn’t as efficient as getting DHA and EPA directly from food sources that provide it. Even after extensive research, it’s not totally clear how well ALA converts into EPA and DHA or if it has benefits on its own, but health authorities, like those at Harvard Medical School, still consider all sources of omega-3s crucial in the diet. (8)
Historically, we’ve seen that populations that consume the most omega-3 foods, like people in Okinawa, Japan, live longer and healthier lives than people who eat a standard diet low in omega-3s.
Because there is such debate over waters being contaminated with toxins and pollutants like mercury, many people find it hard to get enough omega-3s from eating fish only. This is one reason why some people prefer supplementing with fish oil in addition to eating some omega-3 foods.
The difference between “fish oil” and “cod oil” can be confusing. Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, but it doesn’t have much vitamin A or D. On the other hand, cod liver oil is lower in omega-3s but very high in vitamins A and D.
What is the ideal kind of fish oil if you want to supplement your diet? I believe that the best form of omega-3 fish oil contains astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant that also helps stabilize fish oil), so my preferred choice is fish oil made from wild-caught pacific salmon, which has high levels of DHA/EPA and astaxanthin.
So, when it comes to getting enough omega-3s into your diet, I recommend eating plenty of omega-3 foods and also supplementing in most cases. Through a combination of both, my advice is to make sure you’re getting at least 1,000 milligrams a day of EPA/DHA and about 4,000 milligrams of total omega-3s (ALA/EPA/DHA combined).
6. Nuts and Seeds
A welcome addition for vegetarians and vegans, nuts and seeds are a terrific option for getting more healthy fats into your diets. While technically they’re rich in omega-3s, nuts and seeds deserve their own entry.
For starters, they’re extremely easy to incorporate into your diet; they’re fairly affordable (buy in bulk to save!) and easily transportable, making them perfect for snacking. Aside from being a great source of healthy fats, nuts and seeds offer a wealth of benefits for our bodies. Regularly eating them can help lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels. Like other foods rich in omega-3s, nuts and seeds are also considered brain foods, thanks to their high levels of antioxidants, and are even recommended to help naturally combat depression.
The beauty of nuts and seeds is that you’re spoiled for choice. When it comes to nuts, I’m partial to walnuts, which have 5 grams of fat per serving, and almonds, which are packed with vitamin E, but there are so many nuts to choose from, that you really can’t go wrong: hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts all have their own delicious nutritional profiles. With the explosion of nut butters, it’s easier to add different types of nuts to your diet by dipping apple slices or carrot sticks in them. Look for nut butters with just one or two ingredients, the nut and salt. I also love toasting nuts and sprinkling them in my salads for an instant boost of healthy fats.
For seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds are two of my favorites. They’re both high in fiber and fat, but low in carbs. Add seeds to yogurt or sprinkle in your smoothie, like this keto recipe with avocado, chia seeds and cacao.
This little wonder food ticks all the boxes. It’s an inexpensive food that’s packed with protein and a full amino acid profile. Contrary to decades of popular belief, eggs also don’t raise bad cholesterol levels. In fact, consuming benefit-rich eggs can actually lower cholesterol while improving heart health. (9) The choline found in eggs is also helpful at keeping our brains in tip-top shape.
Additionally, a higher consumption of eggs can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, a variety of conditions including excess body fat, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. Having any of these conditions makes you more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. A 2016 study found that adults over 40 years old who regularly ate eggs reduced their risk of metabolic syndrome. (10)
What can make eggs confusing are all the options. Some people advocate eating just egg whites, which is a mistake. Egg yolks are full of nutrients and healthy fat; to get the full benefits of eggs, you should be consuming it all. Additionally, free-range eggs are absolutely the way to go. While egg carton claims can get tricky, the rule of thumb is to opt for free-range eggs. These have more vitamins, more omega-3s and also a lower risk of bacteria like salmonella.
8. Grass-fed organic beef
Where’s the beef? While Americans often shun red meat in favor of poultry, beef — and in particular, grass-fed beef — absolutely has a role to play in a balanced diet that’s rich in healthy fats. Beef is rich in protein, essential to keeping muscles strong and satiety.
Choosing grass-fed over grain-fed is important, because meat from cows that are nibbling on grass instead of grains comes loaded with extra benefits. It has significantly more omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which helps to prevent cancer and other diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. CLA is one of the few cancer-fighting foods that comes from an animal, not a plant.
CLA also reduces the risk of heart disease, thanks to high antioxidant levels and its ability to lower bad cholesterol. And grass-fed beef is much safer than grain-fed beef — using antibiotics and hormones in grass-fed beef is much less common. Remember, you are what you eat eats, so you want to choose the best quality possible. And when it comes to beef and healthy fats, grass-fed beef is definitely the winner.
9. MCT oil
I love my oils and there’s a newish one on the scene that rivals my appreciation of coconut oil. Say hello to MCT oil. MCTs, aka medium-chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat that our bodies love. They’re easily digested and sent to the liver, where they can give your metabolism a kick-start; some people even add MCT oil to their morning coffee because it gives them more energy and helps you feel full, a great double-whammy if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight.
Getting enough saturated fats helps keep your gut in tip-top shape by allowing good bacteria to flourish and keeping harmful parasites and fungi at bay. MCT oil, like coconut oil, also has antioxidants flowing through it, which helps maintain heart health, acts as brain food and reduces inflammation.
Try using MCT oil in homemade salad dressings, adding it to smoothies and shakes or replacing some coconut oil for MCT oil (1/3) when you’re baking.
10. Full-fat dairy
While not everyone can consume dairy — some people have a lactose intolerance. But for those who can, full-fat dairy is an excellent source of healthy fats. If you normally reach for low-fat or skim milk, you might be surprised that full-fat dairy is the way to go. The dangers of low-fat dairy range from a higher rate of obesity to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Full-fat dairy, on the other hand, offers up plenty of healthy fats. My favorite types of dairy to consume are yogurt, raw milk and goat milk. Yogurt is full of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and protein, but the winning ingredient is probiotics. These bacteria help keep your gut’s bacterial balance in check.
In turn, that helps with digestion and all sorts of tummy issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and diarrhea. Funnily enough, even people who are lactose intolerant often find that eating yogurt actually helps them feel better. The probiotics found in yogurt can also improve your immune system and regulate your mood. Because the brain and the gut are linked, a happy gut tends to lead to a happier mindset.
Raw milk (and cheese!) is my other preferred dairy for healthy fats. Raw milk comes from grass-fed cows and hasn’t be pasteurized or homogenized, keeping intact all of the vitamins, minerals and natural enzymes that milk naturally has; it’s one of the most nutrient-rich foods around. Raw milk doesn’t contain added sugar or other ingredients, and can reduce allergies, boost your immune system and keep your skin looking smooth.
Meanwhile, goat milk is easily digestible by the body, making it a great option for those with gastrointestinal problems. Goat milk is also better tolerated by those with lactose issues and doesn’t cause inflammation the way cow milk can. It’s also a great option for children once they’ve moved past breastfeeding, as it contains fewer allergens than cow milk.
When choosing any type of dairy, I recommend opting for raw varieties from grass-fed animals for the most nutritional value. If that’s not possible, your next best bet is organic from grass-fed cows.
11. Dark chocolate
This is probably my favorite food on this list! Not only does dark chocolate taste great, but it’s a superfood as well. It’s high in fat and rich in antioxidants, which help protect our bodies from free radicals, which cause disease. The flavanols found in dark chocolate also improve heart health, thanks to their ability to lower blood pressure and get more blood flowing to the heart and the brain. And if you’ve ever found that nibbling on a piece of chocolate helps you focus, you’re not alone. It’s a brain food that actually improves cognitive performance.
Not all dark chocolate is created equal. I recommend choosing a chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cacao or higher (such as 85 percent). This minimizes the amount of sugar and means you’ll be getting a solid antioxidant boost. And wherever possible, look for brands that do fair trade and organic cacao beans.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
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