Importance of Healthy Fats

How much fat should you eat each day, and what does it do? Find out.
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Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Matt Armendariz, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Although fat got a lot of flak in the carb-crazy ‘90s, fat is actually very important to a healthy diet. Fat comes in two main forms: unsaturated and saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are oils — the kind that are fluid at room temperature (such as olive and canola oils). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (think a stick of butter or glob of coconut oil).

You need both kinds in your diet, but the majority should come from unsaturated fats. The current recommendation is that you get about 25 percent-35 percent of your daily calories from fat (that’s 56-78 grams of fat on a 2,000-calorie diet), with no more than 10 percent (22 grams) coming from saturated fat.

So what does fat actually do for you?
1. It's a major fuel source for your body (meaning it provides a lot of calories) and also the main way you store energy. 
2. You need fat to help you absorb certain nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) and antioxidants (like lycopene and beta-carotene). 
3. Fat is important in giving your cells structure.
4. Omega-3 fats, a type of unsaturated fat, are important for optimum nerve, brain and heart function. One type of fat you don’t need? Trans fats, an artificial kind of fat found in partially hydrogenated oils.

And by the way, eating fat won’t necessarily make you fat. Although it does have more calories per gram than carbohydrate and protein, fat makes food more flavorful and satiating, which may mean that you don’t need as much to feel satisfied.

Learn how to get more healthy fats in your diet: 8 Healthy Fats You Should Be Eating

Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

8 Healthy Fats You Should Be Eating

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Walnuts

Walnuts have earned their superfood status in part because of their fats. They are one of the few foods to deliver alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat thought to protect against heart disease. Toast them to bring out their flavor and extra crunch, then sprinkle about a tablespoon on yogurt or fold some into muffins or your morning oatmeal.

 

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D.

Olives

Olive oil is a great way to get monounsaturated fats in your diet, but so are olives. They also deliver plant sterols — compounds that can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Olives can be pretty high in sodium, but you can take away some of that salt by soaking them in fresh water.

Photo By: Anna Kucherova

Avocados

Avocados get their creamy texture from heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They also deliver fiber, which helps you feel full, as well as potassium and vitamin C. For a heart-smart and delicious breakfast, smash an avocado onto whole-grain toast.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is an excellent heart-healthy choice for cooking. It’s loaded with monounsaturated fats, which can raise your “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL). It’s particularly good for cooking at high temperatures, since it has a higher smoke point than olive oil.

Peanut Butter

Smear some toast or apple slices with peanut butter and you have a breakfast or snack with staying power. The unsaturated fats in peanut butter help make the meal satisfying by making it take longer to digest, and it’s also packed with protein. Stick to natural peanut butter to avoid the added sugars and unhealthy partially hydrogenated fats that are added to other kinds of peanut butter.

Photo By: Eric Gevaert

Salmon

As an “oily” fish, salmon has lots of DHA and EPA — two kinds of omega-3 fats that can reduce inflammation, lowering risk of skin cancer and heart disease. Want an alternative to salmon? Trout, mackerel, sardines and herring are all good choices for getting DHA and EPA into your diet.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed is high in a plant-based form of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is linked to heart health by improving blood pressure. Grind up 2 tablespoons or so in a clean coffee grinder and sprinkle it over cereal or yogurt.

Photo By: Phekthong Lee

Almonds

Almonds are particularly high in monounsaturated fat, the kind that helps improve your cholesterol levels. They’re a smart choice for snacking; in addition to those healthy fats, almonds provide fiber and protein, which help keep you feeling satisfied. About a dozen is an appropriate serving.

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