There’s no denying that fat is the dieter’s nemesis and remains the headliner of the “Foods That Are Bad for Your Health” list. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve been told at some point or another to eat less fat. Contrary to widespread belief, our bodies need fat – more specifically “healthy” or “good” fats like monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
In fact, eating more of these fats can substantially lower your risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive disorders, inflammation and various cancers. Though the terms themselves might sound pretty complicated, incorporating MUFAs and PUFAs into your diet is a whole lot easier. Here are some super simple ways to reap all the benefits of these good fats from everyday foods.
Enjoy Fatty Fish At Least Twice a Week
Fatty fish are potent sources of omega-3 PUFAs. They’re also rich in quality protein and essential minerals and vitamins including vitamin D, which is necessary for strong bones and muscles. There are endless ways to get more fatty fish into your diet. For instance, you can bake, grill, roast or pan-fry varieties like salmon, trout or mackerel for a deliciously savory main course or add them to your favorite salads or soups.
You can add other types of fatty fish like canned tuna, sardines or anchovies, to salads, sandwiches, sauces, homemade pizza or even pair them with cucumber slices or whole grain crackers for a healthy snack. In terms of omega-3s, you’ll get the most nutritional bang for your buck from wild fatty fish varieties.
Eat Half an Avocado a Day
A one-of-a-kind berry fruit, and one of our favorite salad toppers here at That Salad Lady, over 80% of the calories in an avocado come from fat. In addition, about 70% of that fat is the monounsaturated kind. Besides being a great source of MUFA, avocado is rich in fiber and a laundry list of minerals and vitamins. Notably, it’s a great source of vitamin K, an often overlooked fat-soluble vitamin that supports heart health and blood pressure control.
The avocado itself is incredibly versatile. You can use it to make homemade dip (guacamole) or creamy pasta sauces and in salads and dressings. It also makes a great sandwich topper or as a delicious stand-alone snack. The greenest portion (closest to the skin) is also rich in antioxidants so be sure to scrape the peel clean.
Sprinkle Flax and Chia Seeds into Your Diet
Eating flax and chia seeds is arguably the easiest way to get more omega-3s into your diet, especially if you’re not a fan of fish. These seeds also supply hefty doses of fiber and other disease-fighting nutrients. Just a little of either goes a very long way. Whether salads, cereals or yogurt you can sprinkle chia seeds on practically anything as they’re small and bland in flavor.
Flax seeds, however, have a nuttier flavor that can be somewhat overpowering. For this reason, it’s best to use ground flax. Simply sprinkle it on top of hot cereals like oatmeal or include a tablespoon or two in smoothies. You can also add flax seeds to homemade breads, muffins or other baked goods. For great texture and nutty flavor, throw a little flax in your rice, grain and stir-fry dishes.
Use Quality Oils in Salads and Cooking
Extra-virgin olive oil is (EVOO) one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with and eat. As implied by the name, EVOO is a liquid fat derived from olives. An “extra-virgin” label essentially means the oil is unrefined and therefore contains all the valuable nutrients naturally present in olives. Besides being a good source of disease-fighting antioxidants, EVOO is packed full of MUFAs and even some PUFAs.
As EVOO has a relatively low smoke point, it’s best for low and medium-heat cooking. At room temperature, you can pair it with vinegar and seasonings for flavorful vinaigrettes or combined it with Italian herbs for bread dipping. When it comes to high-heat cooking methods like sautéing and frying, oils like avocado, safflower and sunflower oils are better options. All these oils have healthy compositions of good fats as well.
Snack on Nuts or Use Them in Meals
Whether walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, macadamia or Brazil nuts, all nuts are chock-full of MUFAs in addition to protein and fiber. Walnuts are especially unique in that they’re also a valuable source of omega-3s. A serving or two of nuts makes the perfect snack. You can also add them to cereals, yogurts, salads, side dishes and entrees for unique flavor and texture.
Nut butters are as nutrient-rich as the nuts themselves. The healthiest nut butters are organic, natural, low in sugar and minimally processed. Add your favorite nut butters to smoothies, sauces and dips, or spread them on whole grain bread or over fruits like apples and bananas for a quick snack on the go.
Don’t Shy Away from Whole Soy Foods
Though there’s been some controversy around the potential health risks of soy, whole soy foods are still considered healthy choices. Besides being excellent sources of plant-based protein, soy foods like soybeans and their derivatives (tofu, tempeh and soymilk) are also very high in omega-3 PUFAs. Just treat them as you would dairy foods and limit your consumption to no more than 2-3 daily servings.
You can easily incorporate whole soy foods into your everyday diet. For instance, you can purchase edamame in convenient snack-sized packs for easy snacking on the go or use soymilk as you would use regular cow’s milk. Tofu and tempeh make great meat substitutes. You can also use them to thicken meat entrees like meatloaf, lasagna, casseroles, quiches and even burgers.
As you can see, good fats are housed in a variety of foods that you can effortlessly include in your diet. Following these easy tips and ideas is a sure way to reap the full nutritional benefits of healthy fat-rich foods. Now, I’d remiss if I didn’t also mention that these foods generally come with high calorie tallies. For maximum nutritional benefits, err on the side of 4-6 combined servings a day.