For the past few decades, we’ve heard all about the virtues of a low-fat diet and the dangers of dietary fat and cholesterol.
But with the number of overweight and obese people climbing every day and statin drugs for lowering cholesterol the most commonly prescribed medications in the world, researchers have recently reviewed the low fat trend. Emerging research has shown that there is such a thing as healthy fat which can increase your good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol-think H for healthy) and decrease your bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol-think L for lousy).
But with so many so-called healthy oils and butter substitutes on the market, how do decide what’s best to buy?
Here are 30 tips for choosing healthy fats in your diet:
- Choose plant-based oils such as olive oil, or peanut oil if you are not allergic to nuts. Plant based oils will not contain cholesterol as compared with animal-based oils such as butter.
- Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Mono means 1 and poly means more than 1. These fats are most easily used by the body for a range of important functions and are healthier for you than saturated fats. These will help you feel full and make it less likely that you will eat saturated fats from animal products, such as butter and lard.
- Go Mediterranean. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be heart healthy due to the proportion of olive oil used as dressing and cooking oil. Olive oil is actually higher in calories than butter but contains no cholesterol.
- Choose natural oils, not ‘lite’ or ‘light’ ones. Some people find the taste of olive oil a bit overwhelming, such as that of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or EVOO. There are different grades of olive oil you can try until you find one that suits your palate. Avoid oils labeled lite or light, however, because those words do not usually refer to the color of the oil, but the fact that is has been blended with another type of oil, one potentially less healthy for you.
- Eat olives. These tasty little foods are the origins of olive oil, so you can get all the benefits of the oil plus a tasty snack for only a few calories per portion. Rinse off the salt water they are usually packed in to make them healthier, and enjoy!
- Substitute olive oil for butter in a range of recipes. Use it as a spread on bread and for cooking and frying. If you miss buttercream frosting on your cake, try a simple glaze of water and powdered sugar instead, with a dash of olive oil for body and texture.
- Eat avocados. These tasty fruits contain a range of heart-healthy fats 75% monounsaturated and 25% polyunsaturated. They are versatile and can be used in sandwiches, salads, Mexican and Tex-Mex meals, and more.
- Use guacamole instead of mayo in your sandwiches. Make your own guacamole by mashing fresh avocado with some fresh tomatoes cut into cubes and a squirt of lemon or lime juice. Use your guacamole as you would mayonnaise, on turkey sandwiches, with your tuna salad, and more. Be careful of commercially prepared guacamole, however, as it can often contain unhealthy fats. In fact, some actually contain very little avocado. If you must buy it, be sure to read the label to make sure avocado is listed as the first ingredient.
- Eat nuts in moderation if you are not allergic. Studies have shown that those who eat 1 ounce of nuts each day have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off. Nuts are not only rich in healthy fats and certain vitamins and enzymes, their fiber makes you feel fuller and aids in digestion.
- Try walnuts in your oatmeal each morning. Studies have shown that 8 walnuts a day can help lower you cholesterol naturally. A bowl of oatmeal made with quick oats, water and a dash of cinnamon can help lower it even more.
- Switch to peanut oil. Peanut oil is a monounsaturated fat, which means it is a simple fat easily digested and used by the body. It increases healthy cholesterol in the body and is great for your skin and your memory. It works well in Asian-style dishes.
- Cook at home using healthy oils so you can steer clear of artery-clogging trans fats. Healthy oils like peanut, olive and coconut oil give foods a rich flavor compared with the trans fats in store-bought cookies, cakes and other packaged convenience foods. Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen molecules into a range of (usually cheap and unhealthy) oils to make them solid and therefore less likely to spoil as the products they are made with sit on store shelves. Trans fats are damaging to heart health and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Add coconut oil to your diet in moderation. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but studies have shown it is processed by the body differently than animal-based saturated fats. Coconut oil has been shown to offer a range of healing properties and can improve your digestive health. It is usually solid at room temperature but becomes liquid on warm days.
- Use coconut oil in a wide range of tasty recipes, even if you are not fond of the flavor. Coconut oil is versatile and can be used in most forms of cooking and baking; however, some people find the taste too strong or overwhelming in subtly seasoned recipes. If you do not want the strong taste of coconut to be obvious in your dishes, use expeller-pressed or deodorized coconut oil.
- Use butter in moderation. Butter contains a range of vitamins and nutrients, including Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be good for heart health. Butter does also contain cholesterol, true, but also offers a range of health benefits, such as helping you feel full for longer and boosting your metabolism.
- Use sunflower oil. It has the highest concentration of monounsaturated fats of all the oils available, according to the nutrition database at Self magazine.
- Eat macadamia nuts if you can afford them. They are delicious, with a rich, creamy taste and rich in monounsaturated fats and fiber. The only downside is they can be costly; look for bargains in your local warehouse club.
- Explore nut-based oils. We have already discussed peanut oil, but there are several other nut-based oils high in monounsaturated fats that are worth experimenting with, including hazelnut (also known as filbert), macadamia and almond.
- Use soybean oil in moderation. It is polyunsaturated and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is versatile enough to be used in a range of recipes, from frying to homemade salad dressings. However, note that some people are allergic to soy. The jury is also still out for some researchers as to how much soy should be eaten every day as part of a healthy diet.
- Eat more tofu. Soybeans have the highest amount of protein of any member of the bean family, with a low percentage of fat, making it an excellent substitute for meat in your cooking. Try a stir-fry using sesame oil to get the flavor of a Chinese restaurant with none of the hidden dangers found in many prepackaged foods. Some researchers express concern at eating too much soy, especially genetically modified soy. Look for organic tofu if you are concerned about GMO foods and cook more from scratch if you are worried about soy being added to many prepackaged foods as a thickener and source of protein.
- Add Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet to improve heart health. Sources include salmon and other fatty fish and sunflower, soybean, walnut, and corn oils.
- Boost your Intake of Omega-6 fatty acids in moderation. Omega-6 fatty acids are thought to also aid in heart health, though according to recent studies, too much can be a bad thing. Flax seed is an excellent source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Flax seed has a wonderful nutty taste and texture. Add to cereal or sprinkle on salads.
- Choose your cheese wisely. Hard cheeses such as cheddar have less fat than soft cheeses such as Brie or Bleu cheese. If you are going to eat cheese, practice portion control. One ounce of cheese is about the size of two dice.
- Choose your protein carefully. A lot of people think they have to give up bacon and other tasty meats because they are high in fat. The truth is they can be enjoyed in moderation if you make sensible choices. Try Canadian or back bacon instead of bacon streaked with fat. Also try a homemade ham steak.
The main danger with processed meats like bacon is all the chemicals, salt and preservatives the food industry puts into them. One other concern is over cooked meats becoming charred, which has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men. If you do choose to eat bacon, cook until crisp but not overdone. Use a couple of slices on the side of your eggs in the morning, or as the topping for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich (BLT) loaded with the salad items and a thin smear of mayo or guacamole.
- Opt for lean cuts of meat. Many people avoid beef and pork because they consider them to be too fatty. The truth is that there are a lot of lean cuts of meat you can buy in the supermarket once you know what to look for, such as a minute steak or a pork loin. One pork loin can make many meals economically smart, from a roast dinner to stir-fry, tacos, and most other meals in which you would use white-meat chicken. Use portion control to make sure you do not overdo it on the protein and fat. A three-ounce portion of meat is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.
- Use low-fat versions of high-fat foods. Some fat is good for us, but there is no need to consume full-fat items if there are low-fat alternatives. Look for low-fat cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt and milk to keep down the amount of dietary cholesterol and calories you are consuming.
- Add Greek-style yogurt to your diet. Yogurt is good for maintaining digestive health, adding immune system-boosting probiotics through its active cultures. Studies have also shown that eating yogurt can curb cravings and lead to weight loss. Greek-style yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt for the same number of calories and will also make you feel fuller for longer.
- Eat eggs. A lot of people steer clear of eggs due to the cholesterol, but the diet is just one part of the cholesterol picture. We can control our dietary intake of cholesterol to some extent, but skipping eggs can mean we are missing out on all of the protein and valuable nutrients packed into that one small shell, all for only about 70 to 90 calories. Eggs will help you feel full for longer and are highly portable. Boil up a couple so you can have a tasty snack you can take anywhere. Cheese and eggs are the main snacks permitted on a low carb diet because they leave you feeling satisfied for hours after eating, and much less likely to grab sugary foods due to carb cravings.
- Choose chocolate. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, such as 70% to 90%, have been shown to contain healthy fats and other disease-fighting nutrients. One ounce a day of high-quality chocolate can satisfy your sweet tooth even as it improves your health. Avoid milk chocolate or white chocolate due to the large amounts of sugar and other added ingredients that dilute the heart-healthy cocoa solids.
- If you have been following a low fat diet but are still overweight or struggling with medical issues, try adding some healthy fats to your diet, in moderation.
The suggestions above are easy to follow and can make a difference in the way you look and feel.