While digging into a bag of kettle chips or buttery popcorn on the reg won’t do much to level up your nutrition game, that doesn’t mean you should avoid anything and everything F-A-T. Just ask anyone who’s following the ketogenic diet.
Of the types of fat out there (saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids, trans fats, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and dietary cholesterol), it’s saturated fats and trans fats that give the macronutrient a bad rep. These fats may contribute to higher ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) and lower ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, increasing risk for stroke and diabetes, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.
Saturated and trans fats are mainly found in animal sources like beef, cheese, and dairy, and occasionally in poultry and fish, says White. He warns that trans fats are ultra common in fried and processed foods, because they’re intended to increase shelf life. Some plant sources of saturated fats include coconut oil, palm oil, and kernel oil.
Meanwhile, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are integral to a well-balanced diet, says Moreno-Bryce. According to The American Heart Association, polyunsaturated fats can promote healthy cholesterol levels, and provide essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats and vitamin E. Plus, monounsaturated fats may also be associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, says Melissa Prest, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.R., L.D.N. Some food sources of these fats include avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
The USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that up to 35 percent of the average adult’s daily calories come from fat. Saturated fats should be limited to less than 10 percent of daily calories, and trans fats should be avoided as much as possible, says Prest.
So what foods should you add to your grocery list to incorporate more healthy fat into your diet? We’ve compiled a list of dietitian-approved fatty foods to keep your health on point.
Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans are great sources of monounsaturated fats, while walnuts pack polyunsaturated fats, says Prest. She recommends adding a tablespoon or two to salads for a little crunch.
24 almonds contain about 14 grams of fat and make a great snack, according to White. He also likes to mix equal parts almonds, peanuts, seeds, and dried fruit for DIY trail mix. (We’ll talk more about peanuts and seeds later.)
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that our bodies can’t make on their own, says Prest. Varieties like salmon, herring, and mackerel contain more than 1,500 milligrams per 3-ounce cooked portion. These omega-3s promote heart, brain, and eye health.
White recommends swapping fish like salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific trout, or mackerel in for your usual meat twice a week. “Eating polyunsaturated fat [that’s fish] in place of saturated fat [think red meat or pork] may lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which can decrease your risk for heart disease,” he says.
Some oils can provide both flavor and nutrition to your meals. Prest recommends limiting your use of saturated fat-containing oils like coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil, and going for monounsaturated fat-containing options like peanut or canola oils or polyunsaturated fat-containing oils like sunflower, corn, soybean, or flaxseed oil.
Just don’t get too heavy-handed when cooking or whipping up homemade salad dressing. Healthy oils can still contribute to excess calories, warns White. Remember that a serving of olive oil (we know, it’s delicious) contains about 120 calories. So limit that drizzle!
Avocado is so much more than an Instagrammable toast topping. First, it’s totally delectable, but more importantly, the average avocado contains 21 grams of monounsaturated fat plus an added bonus of nine grams of fiber.
White recommends spreading a quarter of an avocado on a piece of whole-grain toast for a delicious and healthy breakfast or snack.
If you’re over the #avotoast trend, Moreno-Bryce recommends using avocado in lieu of saturated fats like butter in muffin or brownie mixes. You can either swap butter for avocado in whole or use half avocado-half butter for a healthy boost.
Soybeans, which are called edamame in their natural form or tofu or tempeh in block form, pack protein and healthy fat. Moreno-Bryce recommends adding whole soybeans or grilled tofu to your salad to get the benefits. One block of tofu contains 13 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 29 grams of protein.
She also likes to swap mashed soft tofu in for ricotta cheese in pasta dishes to swap saturated fat for polyunsaturated fat.
Related: 7 Protein Sources For Vegetarians
With so many varieties of crunchy seeds out there, your options for incorporating them into meals are literally endless! Prest recommends topping your salad or veggie dish with some pumpkin or sesame seeds for monounsaturated fats or flax seeds for polyunsaturated fats.
Moreno-Bryce likes adding chia seeds to smoothies and yogurt to add omega-3s, fiber, and protein.
Whether you’d rather munch on them whole or as a creamy butter, peanuts are another great source of healthy fats. Prest recommends adding a tablespoon of peanut butter to your morning oatmeal to kickstart your day with 8 grams of polyunsaturated fat.
White likes to use peanut butter in easy-to-make energy bites for a quick boost on the go. Just mix peanut butter, honey, flax seeds, chia seeds, and shredded coconut together, roll into tablespoon-sized balls, and store in the fridge.
Pin this handy infographic to make sure you’re loading up on the good stuff!