Fat-free and low-fat foods used to be a fixture of grocery stores and marketing campaigns — think fat-free yogurt or low-fat milk — but experts have since flipped the script on the ‘90s trend. As it turns out, healthy fats are essential for a well-rounded diet.
The right fats keep you fuller longer, provide essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, and amp up the flavor of any dish, particularly vegetables that may be less enticing otherwise. But, how much healthy fat should you eat? Ahead, more about adding healthy fats to your diet and some secrets to healthy fat portion control.
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How Much Healthy Fat Should You Eat?
Fat is foundational to good health, but it’s all about incorporating the right types in the right portion sizes. There’s saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fats, plant-based, dairy, and the list goes on. Here, we break down the top 3 ways to make healthy fats a balanced (and tasty!) part of your everyday.
3 Facts to Know About Fat
#1 Know the Differences Between Fat Types
It comes down to saturated versus unsaturated. Researchers recommend limiting saturated fats — usually found in things like beef and processed foods — and replacing them with healthier unsaturated fats to reduce your risk of heart disease.
So what are unsaturated fats? Found mainly in plant-based foods, they come with a long list of health perks, like improving blood cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Within the category of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, almonds) and polyunsaturated fats (walnuts, fish, flaxseed), which provide omega-3 fatty acids that are responsible for many of those health benefits. (The difference between “mono” or “poly” comes down to the number of carbon bonds in the fat.)
Trans fats are the ones to avoid. Made by adding hydrogen to liquid oils, artificial trans fats are sometimes called “partially hydrogenated oil” or “shortening” on food labels. They’ve been linked to increasing “bad” LDL cholesterol and heart disease. Thankfully, many companies have eliminated trans fats, but they’re still common in margarine, frozen pizza, cookies, coffee creamers, and more.
#2 Pick the Right Cooking Oil
Oils are often the start of any meal prep, and they’re an easy way to get a healthy dose of fat. Here are two of our favorites:
This mild-flavored oil is loved for its high smoke point — you can use it in temps up to 500 degrees F before the oil burns — and its high monounsaturated fat content.
Also high in monounsaturated fat, olive oil can protect you from cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders and is known as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant ingredient. Since it has a lower smoke point of about 375 degrees F, it’s best for dressings and light cooking.
#3 Pick the Right Portions
Making healthy fats a part of your diet means portion control and keeping fat in balance with the other food on your plate. Here’s a go-to guide for some of the most nutritious fats that can be incorporated into breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
Almonds, walnuts, and selenium-rich Brazil nuts are great choices. Aim for a small handful of nuts — 1 ounce has 160–180 calories — that are raw and unsalted.
The fiber-packed fruit is high in monounsaturated fat and keeps you feeling full. Experts recommend half an avocado per day, which is roughly 7 grams of monounsaturated fat and 100–150 calories. Try it on toast or as a taco topping.
The American Heart Association recommends eating heart-healthy seafood like salmon and sardines 2 times per week. A serving size is roughly 3.5 ounces for cooked fish or roughly ¾ cup for flaked fish.
It’s not just about peanut butter anymore. There are protein and fiber-rich butters made with almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, and more. Most experts agree that up to 2 tablespoons is the perfect amount for smoothies, spread on toast or straight out of the jar.
These tiny black seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids thanks to polyunsaturated fat and are a great source of plant-based protein. You can sprinkle them on salads or smoothies, but the commonly recommended portion size is 2 tablespoons. Two tablespoons of chia seeds packs in roughly 7 grams of unsaturated fat, 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 140 calories, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium, and trace minerals.
They’re not just good for charcuterie boards. The fruit is loaded with monounsaturated fat — the same that’s extracted to produce olive oil — as well as antioxidants and Vitamin E. Since olives are typically cured with salt, keep an eye on sodium content. The pros agree that about 4 olives is a good ballpark.
How to Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet
Beyond keeping you fuller longer, fats contribute much-needed nutrients to your diet and have the power to fight inflammation, reduce your risk of heart disease, and plenty more. But it’s all about choosing wisely and exercising portion control.
Stick to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in whole foods and keep an eye on just how much you’re consuming. Like every other building block of your diet, including carbohydrates and protein, it’s about striking a balance, so you maximize the health benefits (and flavor) with every bite.