It used to be that all types of dietary fat got a bad rap. Now, there are countless news stories touting the benefits of fat. So, what’s true about dietary fat? The effects of different fats on health varies. And, some fats have shown to have positive health benefits. Replace foods higher in saturated fat with foods higher in unsaturated fats.
A nutritious eating plan doesn't mean cutting out all fat, just focusing on healthier varieties. Not sure how to get started? Begin by making small changes. A general goal is for 20 to 35% of your total daily calories to come from healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and fewer than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats.
Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that may offer health benefits, such as:
- Promoting normal functions of the brain and nervous system
- Lowering cholesterol levels and supporting heart health
- Protecting against dry eye disease
- Reducing inflammation in the body
There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids. Much of the research with regards to human health has focused on three omega-3s. Their scientific names, which can be tongue twisters, relate to the chemical structures. Thus, they are often referred to by three-letter acronyms:
- ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid
- DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid
- EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid
The body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, thus you must get them through the foods you eat. Some foods and beverages are also fortified with omega-3s. For example, eggs, milk, and soy drinks may be fortified with omega-3s. The body can convert the ALA you get from food into DHA and EPA. However, the amount made is very limited. Thus, it is also important to get those omegas from the foods you eat. Some people may benefit from a supplement but be sure to discuss it first with a health care provider.
What to Eat
- Fatty Fish: Include fish high in omega-3 fats at least twice per week. For example, salmon, herring, sardines, lake trout, and Atlantic or Pacific mackerel.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. Add walnuts to cereal, salads or muffins. Try walnut oil in salad dressings and sautes.
- Flaxseed: Your body cannot break down whole flaxseeds to access the omega-3-containing oil, so to get the health benefits, select ground flaxseed. Add it to breakfast cereal, yogurt, baked goods including breads and muffins or mixed dishes and casseroles. Or, drizzle flaxseed oil over quinoa or use it for salad dressing.
- Chia seeds: These small seeds are packed with nutrients. In addition to omega-3s, they contain protein, dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals. Toss them in in your cereal, salads and even baked goods.
- Hemp seeds: These seeds are also packed with omega-3s and protein. They can be eaten raw, cooked or toasted.
- Eggs: Some chickens are given feed that is high in omega-3s so their eggs will contain more as well. When buying eggs, check the package label.
These healthy fats help to increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol in the body. Swapping out monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, for saturated fats, such as butter and lard, may help reduce cholesterol in the body. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can build up and clog blood vessels. The narrowed or blocked blood vessels increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.
What to Eat
- Nuts: In addition to heart-healthy fats, nuts are a good source of protein, dietary fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Just keep portion control in mind and choose unsalted forms. One portion of nuts is equal to 1 ounce and provides approximately 160 to 180 calories. Enjoy a small handful of nuts instead of chips or other fried snacks.
- Oils: Use oils such as olive and canola in place of solid fats (e.g., butter). Use oil in salad dressing or to saute vegetables, seafood, poultry, meat, tofu and tempeh.
- Avocado: Avocados not only contain monounsaturated fat, but they also are packed with dietary fiber, potassium and vitamins (folate and vitamins B6, C and E). Try adding avocado to salad, pizza, soup, salsa, eggs and sandwiches. Enjoy avocado spread on toast for breakfast.
- Peanut Butter: Nearly half the fat in peanut butter is monounsaturated fat. Resist the urge to pour off the heart-healthy oil that's separated out of natural peanut butter, and mix it in.
Recipes Featuring Healthy Fats
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website has an assortment of healthy recipes, including options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are lots of snack options and even treats for your sweet tooth.
Check out these recipes that use sources of omega-3s:
- Cranberry-Almond Breakfast Cereal Recipe
- Salad with Flaxseed Oil Dressing Recipe
- Brown Rice and Flaxseed Pizza Crust
- Napa Valley Glazed Salmon
- Citrusy Tuna Salad with Plantain Chips
Enjoy these recipes that use healthy fats:
- Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie Recipe
- Avocado-Grapefruit Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
- Kale Salad with Fresh Strawberries and Toasted Almonds Recipe
- Vegetable Stir-Fry with Tempeh Skewers and Peanut Sauce
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Date Cookies Recipe
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