What are healthy fats? And why are they important?
Fats get a bad rap. But if we expel our preconceived notions, we can unlock all the health benefits of what are known as “healthy fats,” an essential addition to your diet.
In fact, the health benefits of these healthy fats—polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—include reducing belly fat and lowering the risk of diabetes. Who would have thought?
This is because they actually lower your LDL cholesterol, the kind that builds up in your blood vessels and turn into plaque (there’s a reason they call it “bad cholesterol.”)
And the reason they call HDL good cholesterol good is because it helps, among other things, bring that pesky LDL cholesterol over to the liver and out of your body.
Foods that contain healthy fat and help manage cholesterol include:
- Nuts, like almonds and natural peanut butter:
They’re rich in unsaturated fats that help raise healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering unhealthy LDL. Second, these fats also help make LDL cholesterol less likely to oxidize. But do keep an eye on portion size. Almonds are high in calories, and all you need are a couple of ounces a day to reap benefits.
- Flax seeds:
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the essential omega-3 fatty acids that partly and inefficiently converts into DHA and EPA — more active omega-3s — in the body. While flaxseed hasn’t yet been shown to improve heart disease risk, there’s good evidence that flaxseed and flaxseed oil may lower cholesterol levels.
Avocados are a source of monounsaturated fat, which is good for you when eaten in moderation. They’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, compounds that block cholesterol absorption in the body (phytosterols), and antioxidants that can play a role in preventing cancer and heart disease.
- Vegetable oil (especially olive):
All vegetables and veggie-based products contain chemicals called phytosterols, which block the intestine from absorbing cholesterol – thereby reducing LDL cholesterol in your blood, cutting heart disease risk.
- Salmon and sardines:
Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower triglycerides and also slow down the growth of plaques in the arteries and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Foods that are high in bad cholesterol should be avoided, and include:
- High-fat meats
- Fried foods
- Baked goods
- Processed food
- Butter and hard margarine
- Fatty cheese, milk, and other dairy products
And definitely avoid sugar. You’re probably better off eating saturated fats than sugar.
Other Ways to Lower LDL
Increasing your HDL is great, as is decreasing your LDL intake, but you can also reach for foods with naturally high fiber, like baked or black beans; oatmeal; and whole-wheat, rye, and multigrain bread. Coupling a proper and careful diet specific to your needs and goals with exercise is also important.
And while wine has been shown to raise your good cholesterol level (the darker the better), you’d get the same health benefits from a handful of almonds, and in general, most alcoholic consumption will negatively affect your cholesterol.
But hey, no judgments! Who doesn’t like a nice glass of Merlot now and again, proven health benefits notwithstanding?