What’s that, you say? But people who eat fat are fat. Well, no, not necessarily. Let us explain: Our bodies need dietary fat (which is why many fats are called “essential”) in order to lose weight and function properly. The right kinds of fats help increase satiety, maximize your metabolism, protect against heart disease, speed nutrients through your body, and improve your fat-soluble vitamin uptake. Not to mention, most unprocessed, high-fat foods also come packaged with many of those important nutrients, from vitamins and minerals to free-radical fighting antioxidants.
The fact that many Americans still haven’t shaken off the decades-long notion that fat—and particularly saturated fat—is bad for you, isn’t even the biggest issue we face in adopting more fats into our diets. Many of us struggle to determine which fats we should be eating because the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (and nutrition labels) are both generalizing and misleading. According to the guidelines, reducing saturated fat could lower the risk of heart disease if those fats are replaced with a type of “good fat” known as polyunsaturated fat. The only problem is that both heart-healthy omega-3s and inflammation-inducing, fat-storing omega-6s are included in that type of fat, and most Americans are already getting 20 times the amount of omega-6s than we really need, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The reality is, not all fats are created equal. Some are downright bad (like trans fats in margarines), some are misunderstood (like the saturated fat, lauric acid), and some fats are health heroes (like omega-3s). And, don’t get us wrong, eating foods that are packed with the wrong kinds of fat will make you fat, but with all the omegas, and monos, and polys out there, it can be kind of confusing which are which. To make things easier for you, we here at Eat This, Not That! found the best foods with good fats that you can add to your diet. But before you go off on a high-fat binge, remember that—like all food—even these healthy fats should be consumed in moderation.
Fats You Should Eat
Ideally, you’ll want to consume minimally-processed foods that are full of heart-healthy, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, and EPA), monounsaturated fats (OEA), and the trans fat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as well as some medium-chain saturated fats like stearic acid and lauric acid. On the other hand, stick to foods that have low levels of omega-6 fatty acids and other saturated fats (palmitic acid), and zero manmade trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil). According to the Dietary Guidelines, an easy way to do this (besides following this list) is to lessen consumption of the top sources of saturated fats like pizza, burgers, meats, and processed snacks and sweets.
Red meat provides us with healthy fats, in particular, conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA—the trans fat that actually helps improve heart health and reduce belly fat—and stearic acid, a saturated fat that actually reduces LDL cholesterol. But grass-fed beef is even better than what you’ve traditionally been grabbing. In fact, a study in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed beef is higher in CLA, stearic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid (because grass contains ALA and corn does not), and lower in unhealthy palmitic acid, than conventionally raised beef. And when it comes to your waistline, grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat.
Coconut is high in saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique medium-chain triglyceride that battles bacteria, improves cholesterol scores, and increases the 24-hour energy expenditure in humans by as much as 5 percent. And get this: A study published in Lipids found that dietary supplementation of coconut oil actually reduced abdominal fat. Sprinkle unsweetened flakes over yogurt or use coconut oil in a stir-fry to start whittling your waist. Need more reasons to get coconut in your diet? Check out these 20 Benefits of Coconut Oil.
Leading the charge of the healthy fat brigade are avocados. This wonder fruit is essentially Mother Nature’s butter. It’s rich, creamy, and—unlike butter—an acceptable food to eat all on its own. While you should still limit yourself to a quarter or half of an avocado per meal, you have no reason to fear its fats. Avocados pack in healthy monounsaturated fats that contain oleic acid, which can actually help quiet feelings of hunger. They also give you two things butter doesn’t: protein and fiber.
Good news for all you chocoholics! Chocolate can help flatten your belly—dark chocolate, that is. Dark chocolate contains the highest percentage of pure cocoa butter, a source of digestion-slowing saturated fat called stearic acid. Because dark chocolate takes more time to process, it staves off hunger and helps you lose weight. Besides the healthy fats, dark chocolate comes packed with antioxidants, principally polyphenols including flavonoids such as epicatechin, catechin and notably the procyanidins, which can help fight off free-radicals and improve blood flow to the brain (which might make you smarter!). A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a few ounces of dark chocolate a day is all you need to reap the benefits.
Go nuts! Polyunsaturated fats in nuts activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one-ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources (they also have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut). A small Pennsylvania State study found that a diet rich in walnuts and walnut oil may help the body respond better to stress and can also help keep diastolic blood pressure levels down. And it’s not just walnuts, a study from the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that even when two groups of participants consumed the same amount of calories, the group which had more calories from fatty almonds lost the most weight. When it comes down to it, all nuts will be great sources of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats, just in varying amounts. If you’re looking to slim down, read our essential guide to the 6 Best Nuts for Weight Loss.
And Nut Butter
It’s easy to see the similarities between nuts and nut butters, but you’d be surprised to note that not all nut butters will be good sources of healthy fats. It’s important to check out the nutrition labels on jars of regular and reduced-fat nut butters. You’ll see a few differences: While the reduced-fat butters have—surprise!—less fat, they also have more sugar and salt. Not so good when you’re trading healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower your sensitivity to insulin for insulin-raising sugars. Make sure you go natural and minimalist. Non-natural nut butters can contain the bad trans fat: partially hydrogenated oils.
We mean the yolks, not shells. If you’re one of the people who still isn’t sure if you should eat the yolk, here’s your answer: yes! While the whites are all protein, leaving the yolk to contain the fat and cholesterol, there’s no need to worry. The fat in yolks is mostly monounsaturated, and a study at the University of Connecticut found that the overall fat profile in egg yolks ultimately helps to reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Not only will it improve your cholesterol, eggs are the number-one dietary source of a nutrient called choline. Choline, which is found also in lean meats, seafood, and collard greens, attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver.
Packed with protein, crammed with calcium, and popping with probiotics, yogurt has all the makings of one of the best foods you can eat for weight loss and general health. Just make sure you go Greek. Whole-milk, Greek yogurts tend to have more protein and fat and less sugar than their leaner versions, which makes for the perfect hunger-squashing team: protein takes longer to break down and fat makes you feel satisfied, so you’ll fly through your morning without an urge to snack. The majority of yogurt’s fat comes from saturated fats, but it also contains monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and naturally-occurring trans fatty acids. Because the overall fatty acid profile is reasonably balanced, it will have no overall effect on cholesterol levels because they both increase LDL but also increase HDL, according to the The Journal of the American College of Nutrition. So you know exactly which ones to buy, check out our Best Full-Fat Yogurts for Weight Loss!
Salmon might not get as bad of a rap for being high in fat, but its health benefits are worth repeating. By adding this fish fillet into your diet just twice a week, you’ll get the full amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the American Heart Association. Omega-3s reduce the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, and can actually slightly lower blood pressure. When you’re at the fish counter, make sure to pick up the right kind—while pink salmon is the second best fish for nutrition and health benefits, farmed Atlantic salmon is one of the worst.
This Mediterranean oil is rich in cancer-fighting polyphenols and heart-strengthening monounsaturated fats, including oleic acid. This fat’s help in getting you lean is backed by some pretty strong facts: A recent study from Obesity found that an olive-oil-rich diet resulted in higher levels of adiponectin than did a high-carb or high-protein diet. Adiponectin is a hormone responsible for breaking down fats in the body, and the more you have of it, the lower your BMI tends to be. Another reason for you to use this lipid in your dressings and sauces: extra virgin olive oil may increase blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with satiety.
Heavy Cream and Milk
Got fat? While full-fat dairy packs more calories, it’s also more filling. That may help explain why a 2013 study review in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat the fatty stuff are less likely to suffer from obesity than those who try and skip the calories and fat with low-fat dairy. The study authors also found no ties between full-fat dairy and heart disease or diabetes. Ironically, some acids in milk fat—ones you don’t get from zero-fat varieties—may crank up your body’s calorie-burning centers, says study coauthor Mario Kratz, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Washington. So pour some heavy cream in your next cup o’ joe. “Heavy cream is a healthy fat that helps keep your blood sugar stable between meals and snacks, which means consistent energy and brain power—not to mention it makes your coffee taste decadent!” says nutritionist Cassie Bjork, RD, LD.
Canola oil, derived from the seeds of a plant in the broccoli family, has a near-perfect 2.5:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. According to a study review published last year in Experimental Biology and Medicine, people who achieve a dietary ratio similar to this have been able to battle cancer, arthritis, and asthma more effectively. The neutral oil is also rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid that may play a role in weight maintenance, according to a recent study.
Out of all the fish in the sea, tuna is one of the highest sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Canned light tuna is one of the best and most affordable fish for weight loss, especially from your belly! One study in the Journal of Lipid Research showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation had the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes. And while you’ll find two types of fatty acids in cold water fish and fish oils—DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—researchers say DHA can be 40 to 70 percent more effective than EPA at regulating fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from expanding in size.
Cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, and it helps slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, leading to consistent energy levels and improved brain function. It may also help lower your risk of diabetes: people who eat a lot of high-fat dairy products actually have the lowest incidence of diabetes, according to a 2015 study of 26,930 people in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those who ate a lot of low-fat dairy products had the highest incidence. The researchers speculated that while calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients in cheese are indeed good for us, we need the fat that goes along with them in order to get their protective effects. Just make sure it’s real, full-fat cheese and not wood chips.
Flax and Chia Seeds
Flax seeds and chia seeds contain a fat called ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can aid weight maintenance and may reduce heart disease risks by promoting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation. A recent review in the journal Nutrients found that omega-3s can both enhance fat-burning and decrease hunger levels while a report in Nutrition in Clinical Practice found that at a sufficiently high intake, omega-3s improve our ability to metabolize fat by altering the way certain “fat genes” function.
Out of all lean meats, duck has the highest level of a muscle-building form of polyunsaturated fat called arachidonic acid, or AA. Supplementation of arachidonic acid has been shown to increase lean body mass, strength and anaerobic power in men. In a study at the University of Tampa, men who took AA gained 3.4 pounds more lean muscle mass than those who took a placebo. Keep bumping up the burn with these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.
This blue-green alga, available in powders and supplements, is full of healthy omega-3s like EPA and DHA. Research shows that these forms of omega-3s are more active in the body than ALA at controlling inflammation and belly fat. Not only is spirulina a great source of heart-healthy fats, but it’s also super-rich in protein, a great source of probiotics, and may even be able to help flatten your belly during exercise. Nine moderately athletic men took either spirulina capsules or a placebo for four weeks in a study printed in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Afterward, the men who had taken spirulina supplements were able to run 30 percent longer than the men who had taken a placebo and burned 11% more fat during a run! Fueling up before your run? Check out our exclusive report, Eat This, Not That! For Runners.
You read that right. Even bacon has healthy fats! We recommend going with old school, full-fat pork. While opting for turkey bacon will save you about 13 calories and a gram of fat per slice, it also adds sodium to your plate—which can lead to high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your breakfast plate, serving size matters, so don’t pig out. A few slices are all you need.