Chances are high that you’ve memorized this nutrition nugget: Saturated fat is bad, and trans fat is really bad. No news there. (If that is news to you, jump to the bottom of this story for a quick primer on them.) But there’s a good chance that you don’t know everything you should about another group of fats—the good-for-you kind. That’s right, there are fats your doctor would encourage you to eat more of to reap a number of head-to-toe health benefits. Olive oil and salmon contain two of the healthy fats that get lots of attention. But there are plenty of other delicious ways to get more of these nutrient powerhouses into your daily meals. Here’s a breakdown of what makes healthy fats so special.
Healthy fats fall into two categories: monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which work to drive levels of bad cholesterol down and keep blood sugar levels even, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which also play a role in maintaining good cholesterol levels and are essential for brain and eye health. While PUFAs are mostly found in plant-based foods, omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish like, you got it, salmon) are also part of this group. Not only do MUFAs and PUFAs support a strong and healthy heart, they also help you feel fuller longer, deliver a dose of antioxidants, and help your body better absorb key vitamins, like A, D, and K.
Where to Find Monounsaturated Fats
Olive oil is certainly one of the brightest stars when it comes to MUFAs, but canola, sesame, and peanut oils are filled with this fantastic fat too. Experiment with these different oils the next time you’re making a stir-fry or sautéing chicken or fish. Or tweak your go-to salad dressing by changing the type of oil that you use. Other foods to stock up on for MUFAs include avocados (they’re a great sandwich filling) and nuts. A handful of almonds or pistachios makes a perfect snack, but you can also add them as a topping to oatmeal in the morning or use them in a pesto for a heart-healthy pasta dish for dinner.
Where to Find Polyunsaturated and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, and lake trout get a lot of attention for being easy-to-find sources of healthy fats. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that you aim to get at least two servings of omega-3-rich fish like these each week. But you can also find polyunsaturated fats in nuts and seeds like flaxseed, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. They’re great when tossed into a salad or blended into a morning smoothie.
All Things in Moderation
Despite these benefits, good-for-you fats are still fats, meaning they’re pretty high in calories. All types of fat have nine calories in each gram, compared with four calories for each gram of carbohydrates or proteins. That means you’re wise to keep a close eye on your portion sizes and follow the adage that a little bit of this good thing will go a long way. Instead of just adding MUFAs and PUFAs to your existing diet, try to focus on swapping out foods containing saturated fats (like butter, beef, and cheese) with these healthier alternatives at least once a day.
A Quick Refresher on Fats
Saturated fat: Found mainly in foods from animals (beef, whole milk, pork, chicken, cheese), as well as tropical oils like palm and coconut. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories. This fat has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Trans fat: Put through a process known as hydrogenation and common in many packaged cakes and cookies, as well as margarine and shortening. On food labels look for the term “partially hydrogenated oil” to know if the food you’re about to eat has it. Here your goal is to keep your daily trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of your total calories. It too has earned a well-deserved bad rap when it comes to the ways it impacts our overall health.
Total fat: The American Heart Association would like to see us limit our total fat intake—and that includes the healthy kind—to less than 35 percent of our daily calories. The calorie content of the foods you enjoy at your Mindful café contain less than 35 percent total fat, less than 10 percent saturated fat, and no trans fats. At home you can use the information found on Nutrition Facts labels as your guide.