Fat is one of the macronutrients providing the body with energy and essential nutrients. Fat is the most energy dense of the macronutrients providing nine calories per gram versus four calories per gram found in carbohydrates and proteins. Fat has many essential functions including nutrient absorption and hormone production. A common misconception says eating fat makes you fat. The truth is excess energy from any macronutrient (fats, carbs or proteins) leads to weight gain. Unsaturated fats, also known as healthy or good fats, decrease cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cutting all fats out of your diet results in missing out on some important health benefits.
1. Fish. Fish is a great source of unsaturated fat and lean protein. Unlike the typical meat, fish is low in saturated (bad) fat. Seafood can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease because it contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice per week. According to the AHA, the best types of fatty fish are: salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna.
2. Nuts. Nuts are a great source of energy and nutrients. They are high in unsaturated fats, providing protection against cardiovascular disease. Foods rich in protein typically contain a high amount of saturated (bad) fat (beef, pork, dairy). Nuts are a good non-meat source of protein and therefore low in saturated fat. Nuts make great snacks to keep you full between meals.
3. Oils/Vegetable Spreads. Oils, specifically canola and olive oil, are a great source of unsaturated fat. The right oils can improve your dishes when used for sauteing, sauce recipes and salad dressings. Vegetable spreads made from vegetable oils (particularly canola and olive oils) are healthy alternatives to butter and margarine. Vegetable spreads contain the same amount of calories as butter and margarine but are much lower in saturated and trans fats.
4. Seeds. Seeds, like nuts, are great sources of unsaturated fat, nutrients and fiber. Seeds make great snacks that keep you full between meals preventing cravings, binge eating and excessive calorie intakes. Flax seeds are a very healthy type of seed which contain fiber, vitamins/minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. They can be purchased whole or ground and used as sauce thickeners and salad toppings. Use flax seeds in a wide variety of recipes as a taste-neutral way to improve the nutritiousness of your meals.
5. Avocados. Avocados are a fruit high in unsaturated fat, vitamin E and many other nutrients. Use avocados as snacks, sandwich toppings or salad dressings to help keep you full and avoid cravings.
The Bottom Line
Fats are not all bad. Unsaturated fats can actually improve your overall health. Though foods containing unsaturated fats provide many health benefits, they are high in calories. If you are on a weight loss plan, keep track of your calorie intake to avoid overeating. Eating too many healthy calories still leads to weight gain.