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How to Enjoy a Diet Full of (Healthy) Fat

January 3, 2013

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I love fat, and my goal is for you to love it, too. For many years, we heard about the no fat and low fat craze in the media and in popular diets. In the 1970s and 80s, many of us stopped eating fat altogether. Personally, I stopped eating some of my favorite foods which were full of fats: walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and even olives. I’ve since learned that fat is good for us; we must eat it for our body to function. Our body needs about 30% fat in our diet every day, and with every meal.

Today, we know that we should be eating fats, but do we really know the right fats to eat and how to prepare them quickly and easily?  Are you eating enough of the good fats every day?

Unlike the 1970s and 80s, numerous diets today are proponents of eating healthy fats (e.g. Dr. Weil’s Anti-inflammatory Diet, the Okinawans' diet, and the plant-based diet advocated by Brendan Brazier). 

Seven Reasons Fat is Good for Us

Reduce Inflammation. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, an anti-inflammatory diet “can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime.”

Heart Health. Studies have shown that foods rich in monounsaturated fats (found in plants like nuts, seeds, olives and avocados) can decrease the risk of heart disease, as they improve blood cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish) may also reduce the risk of heart disease, as they may lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats.

Diabetes. Monounsaturated fats may help control blood sugar levels and benefit type 2 diabetes.

Brain & Joint Health. Omega-3 fatty acids help protect mental and physical health and may help reduce the risk of other conditions influenced by inflammation, such as memory loss, depression, ADHD and rheumatoid arthritis.

Healthy Longevity. The Okinawans in Japan have been eating omega-3 rich cold water fish for decades, and Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world. Heart disease rates are low, and breast and prostate cancer are rare. Fish may contribute to the healthy Okinawan longevity, as it accounts for 11% of their diet.

Energy for Athletes. More recently, Brendan Brazier, former professional Ironman triathlete and author, has been a strong proponent of plant-based nutrition for athletes, including fat- and protein-rich flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

“Aside from its ability to help reduce inflammation caused by movement, omega-3 plays an integral part in the metabolism of fat. A diet with a daily dose of 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseed will allow the body to more efficiently burn fat as fuel. This is obviously a benefit to anyone wanting to shed body fat, but it is of major importance to athletes, who need to spare the energy stored in the muscles,” Brenden Brazier, Thrive Foods

We have the facts about why fats are good for us. Now, to help with your shopping, here is a handy healthy fats list.

Good Fats Shopping List

Plant fats rich in monounsaturated fats

  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Grape seed oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts: Almonds, Brazil, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pistachio, and nut butters
  • Seeds:  Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, and tahini

Polyunsaturated Fats

  • Walnuts 

Omega-3 Fats

  • Seeds: Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds (also a complete protein)
  • Omega-3 rich cold water fish: Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, black cod, mackerel, sardines and herring  

7 Ways to Add Fats to Your Life

  1. Eat fats every day.
  2. Eat fats at every meal.
  3. Be sure fats make up 30% of your meal.
  4. Eat wild salmon 3-4 times a week.
  5. Eat avocados 3-4 times a week.
  6. Eat a handful of nuts & seeds every day.
  7. Use organic extra virgin olive oil in your salads, stir-fry, and roasted vegetables.

Simple Action

Don’t be afraid of fats, and make sure that every meal includes them. Focus on plant fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado) and wild cold-water fish, including wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.

Melanie Albert, nutrition expert and author, is the Founder and CEO of Experience Nutrition, an interactive nutrition and lifestyle education company dedicated to improving long-term health and wellness. Melanie is a 2007 graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, certified health coach, 2012 recipient of the Integrative Nutrition Health Leadership Award, and 2001 integrative medicine fellow of the Kaiser Institute.