How can I include healthy fats in my diet?

Dr. Doris Day, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Here is a list of oils and fats you want to include in your diet. These not only help improve total cholesterol, they help reduce the bad LDL type and increase the good HDL type.

  • polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • monounsaturated fatty acids—this would include a typical Mediterranean diet rich in fish, fruits and vegetables
  • flax seed oil
  • most fish oils
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Good fats, such as olive and canola oils, and the fats in fish, olives and nuts, should be part of your weight loss diet. It's healthy to substitute these fat sources for the solid fats found in red meat, butter and solid shortenings. But remember that a little goes a long way. You don't need to add fats, even good fats, to your weight loss diet. You need only a small amount of good fats for health—for adults, about a couple of tablespoons from all sources per day.

Healthy fats are an essential part of a healthy diet.  Fish, nuts, and certain vegetable oils such as soybean and canola contain healthy polyunsaturated fats and other nutrients which help lower heart disease risk. Eat these foods regularly and in moderation. Monounsaturated fats from vegetable oils may also be heart-healthy; a good source is extra virgin olive oil, which also contains other heart-healthy compounds. Don't get caught up in the "low-fat" craze (for example, low-fat salad dressing) as you will be limiting your intake of these good fats and will likely instead be eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates. Increase these healthy fats in place of refined carbohydrates, starches, and saturated fat.  Especially avoid eating industrial trans fat, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are often used in baked goods, popcorn, and fast foods.

Healthy fats contribute to the feeling of fullness and help stabilize blood sugar. The healthiest sources include monounsaturated fats from plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados. Bad fats include hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and saturated fats. Follow these guidelines:
  • Replace all processed snack foods with raw nuts, seeds, organic nut butters, and dried fruit. Nut consumption has been linked to improvements in body composition and a decreased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Stock up on anti-inflammatory extra virgin olive oil. Use it for salad dressings, marinades and low- to medium-temperature cooking. (Use coconut oil for high-temperature cooking and baking.)
  • Consume essential fats, particularly fish oils. Cutting-edge research has shown an association between omega-3 essential fatty acids and increased muscle retention and fat burning.
  • Get your omega-3s from good sources, such as flax, perilla, walnut, salmon and fish oils. Recommended doses: 2-3 g of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) per day. For flax oil, make certain that the oil is organic and is protected from heat and light. For dosage, a good starting point is 2 tablespoons a day of an oil rich in omega-3s, such as flax and fish oils.

To meet the recommended targets for fat in your daily diet, try the following:

Read food labels for saturated fat and cholesterol content.

Watch out for hidden fats added during cooking or processing.

Choose heart-healthy snacks instead of snacks with a lot of saturated fat. Here are some examples:

  • Air-popped (not microwave) popcorn with a light oil or butter spray
  • A handful of mixed nuts
  • Celery topped with natural peanut butter
  • Baked corn chips served with a guacamole dip
  • Whole-grain crackers served with an olive- or bean-based spread

Substitute olive oil for butter or margarine whenever possible. Here are some delicious examples:

  • Combine olive oil with balsamic vinegar to use as a dipping sauce for bread -- or better yet, fresh veggies.
  • Lightly dress sliced potatoes with olive oil and fresh herbs, then bake to make healthy fries.
  • Toss whole-wheat pasta with olive oil and herbs along with a small amount of fresh Parmesan cheese (instead of high-fat cream or Alfredo sauce).

Make your salad or sandwich heart healthy by doing the following:

  • Experiment with homemade salad dressings by combining olive oil or another heart-healthy oil with different seasoned vinegars.
  • Sprinkle your salad with sunflower or sesame seeds instead of bacon bits or croutons.
  • Try different kinds of olives to add flavor to a salad.
  • Use one-quarter of a sliced avocado instead of mayonnaise or salad dressing on any sandwich.

Don’t omit fats entirely, especially the healthy ones like monounsaturated olive oil. Healthy fats help fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K move around the body, create sex hormones, lower (bad) Low-Density-Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while boosting good High-Density Lipoprotein (HLDHDL) cholesterol, and contribute to the health of skin, eyes, nails, and hair.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.