Fat is an essential part of any healthy meal plan. It helps us absorb key vitamins from our food, adds the richness to lots of delicious recipes (skip below for six of our favorites!) and keeps us feeling fuller for longer after eating. Of course, not all fats are are the same— some are naturally better for us than others.
The healthiest fats are unsaturated fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids). Dietitians recommend that the bulk of our fat intake should come from unsaturated sources, including plant-based foods and oils and fatty fish. Saturated fatty acids, which are found in animal products and some plants, are best enjoyed in moderation. And dietitians recommend that we avoid the trans fatty acids found in some processed foods. (You can learn all about the types of dietary fat and where to find them here.)
If you’re looking to add some wonderful sources of healthy fats to your recipe collection, try these simple, tasty dishes.
This Mediterranean-style dish is packed with savory goodness and makes it from pan to plate in less than 30 minutes. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (a polyunsaturated fat) while olive oil contributes a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat. Studies have revealed that people who consume one serving of fish per week may greatly reduce their risk of heart attack. Mercury levels are low in salmon, which makes it a safe choice to eat several times per week.
Refreshing and zesty, this delicious smoothie owes its high omega-3 content to flaxseed. Flaxseed is one of the best plant sources of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and it contains compounds known as enterolignans which may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed also contains fiber, which helps you stay regular.
Tip: Grinding flaxseeds in a food processor or blender makes its compounds more accessible to your body.
Citrusy and mouthwatering fennel complements a lightly salted and crispy trout. This meal’s healthy fat composition comes from the stellar combination of trout and pine nuts. Trout is an excellent source of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Pine nuts also contain a good dose of omega-6s. Trout makes the list of healthy fish options to consume regularly.
Who can say no to comfort food? This hearty dish combines pasta with a big-flavored and creamy pesto. Monounsaturated fat is the superstar of this recipe due to the combination of avocados and olive oil. Walnuts also provide a plant-based omega-3 source. Replacing other fats with avocados has been shown to significantly reduce blood levels of triglycerides and LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol). Higher blood levels of these fats have been linked to heart disease.
Tip: For a healthy-fat boost beyond this dish, try using avocado instead of butter in baked goods or use it instead of cheese and mayonnaise on a burger.
This simple, palate-pleasing pudding can finish off a nice dinner or energize you first thing in the morning. Chia seeds are bursting with nutrition and health benefits. In addition to being an excellent plant-based source of the omega-3 ALA, they also contain hefty doses of fiber, protein and calcium. Unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds don’t need to be ground before you eat them.
Tip: Try adding chia seeds to salad, yogurt, smoothies or even baked goods.
This recipe remixes a familiar side dish with some extra healthy fats. Both the olive oil and almonds in the salad are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats. Almonds also contain polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect our bodies from damage caused by free radicals, and it’s important for maintaining a healthy immune system.