How Can I Get More Healthy Fats into my Diet?
Q: What exactly are the “healthy fats” I’ve been hearing about and how do I use them?
A: Working healthy fats into your diet is an important component of a nutritious eating plan. That’s excellent news because, plainly put, fats make food taste good. If your fat intake has been very low, adding healthy fats—which can help protect against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and many other conditions—is a good idea. But for most people, the healthy fats should substitute for the less healthy ones you may have been eating.
Healthy fats are good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids and certain saturated fatty acids, like lauric acid. The healthiest food sources of these fats are minimally processed so you benefit from other naturally occurring good-for-you compounds that are found alongside the fats.
There are four basic strategies for optimizing the health benefits of these fats:
Use Healthier Kitchen Oils
- As a first step, discard any bottles of regular vegetable oil in your pantry. By these we mean corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil or just plain vegetable oil, which is usually a mix of these. Replace these with extra virgin olive oil and organic expeller-pressed canola oil. Use the olive oil for salad dressings, uncooked sauces and dips like pesto and hummus, roasting vegetables and sautéing at low heat. Use the canola oil, which is also a source of omega-3 fat, for cooking at slightly higher temperatures, baking and whenever you want a neutral-flavored oil. If you regularly cook at higher temperatures, invest in a bottle of expeller-pressed grapeseed oil, which has an even higher smoke point than canola. Read more about these in our article Choosing the Best Oil.
- Make your own salad dressings using the oils you just added to your pantry. They’re easy to whip up and are much healthier than most of the bottled dressings available. One of our favorites is this simple Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette. When eating salads out, ask for olive oil and vinegar.
- Whenever possible, replace butter and regular margarine spreads with versions made with canola oil and no trans-fats. Read labels carefully and use these products sparingly to minimize unnecessary calories.
- Experiment with virgin coconut oil. Use it when sautéing or roasting vegetables, and try it as a substitute for butter or shortening in baking.
Include Small Amounts of Healthy High-Fat Foods
- Add nuts, avocado and olives in small amounts on a regular basis to salads, grain pilafs and sauces or dips. These ingredients are staples in many dairy-free dips.
- Use nut butters in small amounts. Try our Peanut Butter Delight.
- Some other high-fat foods we love are hummus, tofu, flax seeds, full-fat Greek yogurt, dark chocolate, pasture raised organic beef, salmon, chunk light tuna and whole eggs.
Include a Good Source of Omega-3 Fat Every Day
- Have fish as many as four times a week. The fish highest in omega-3s are anchovies, herring, mackerel, wild caught salmon and sardines.
- Opt for omega-3-rich eggs and grass-fed red meat over more conventional choices.
- Add one of these high-omega-3 foods to your daily breakfast cereal or smoothie: flax seed or flax oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds or walnuts. If you bake, try adding ground flax seed to breads or muffins, like in our Whole Wheat Flax Seed Bread.
- If getting enough omega-3 from foods is a problem for you, consider omega-3 supplements.
Reduce Less Healthy Fats
- Avoid commercial baked goods and pastries, especially when a list of ingredients isn’t available. These pastries are among the highest sources of trans-fats. When an ingredient list is available, avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oil of any kind.
- If you have an occasional yen for crunchy chips or crackers, read ingredient labels to find choices made with a high-oleic oil rather than the oils traditionally used.
- You do not need to give up butter or high-fat cheeses altogether. Our chefs occasionally use a small amount of these in a recipe for their distinctive flavors. But learn to use these ingredients sparingly like we do in our kitchens. A good example is our Garlic Butter Cream Sauce. When you’re eating out, don’t choose creamy, buttery or cheesy dishes because restaurant chefs tend to have a heavy hand with them.
- We hope it goes without saying that you should do your best to avoid the fried foods you find at fast food and casual food joints. Not only is the oil an unhealthy type to begin with, but it is often used over and over again for hours or even days, resulting in dangerous oxidation.
As you can see, moving toward healthy fats isn’t too complicated. But remember, the health benefits are more pronounced the more consistent you are, so work to make these switches a part of your regular routine.
More: Fats and Other Lipids