When it comes to healthy-fat foods, you probably know that avocado is one of them. As people have slowly come around to the idea that fat is not the enemy, this nutritional powerhouse has become a meal prep staple for many in recent years.
But there are plenty of other healthy-fat foods you should definitely be working into your meals and snacks on a regular basis. That said, with nutrition headlines changing constantly it can be hard to know what the deal really is with fat. To cut through the confusion (and make your life way easier), we rounded up the ultimate list of healthy-fat foods you need to know about.
First, here’s what we mean by healthy-fat foods.
Fat comes in a few different forms. The phrase healthy fat usually refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. What makes them healthy is that among other heart-health benefits, they help reduce LDL cholesterol, the kind that clogs your arteries. Here’s a breakdown of each one:
- Monounsaturated fats: “These are among the healthiest of all fats,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF. They can be found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Polyunsaturated fats: The two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fats our bodies need for brain function and cell growth. Omega-3s are mostly found in foods like fish and algae, nuts, and seeds. “Other polyunsaturated fats, [omega-6s], can be found in certain plant-based oils,” Hunnes adds.
And then other types of fats aren’t thought to be as healthy.
There are two main types of unhealthy fats that you’ll want to minimize your intake of:
- Trans fats: Most trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol (the good kind that helps keep blood vessels clear). According to the American Heart Association, trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Saturated fats: The guidance on saturated fat is a little more complicated. Old nutrition research said saturated fat was really bad for your cholesterol levels, but newer information suggests it has a more neutral effect. The topic is very touchy, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead. Many of the healthy foods below have some saturated fat in them, but it doesn’t make up the majority of the fat content and won’t negate the positive effects of healthier fats.
Here’s the list of healthy-fat foods you should add to your plate.
The scoop: One medium avocado has approximately 23 grams of primarily monounsaturated fat. Plus, a medium avocado contains 40 percent of your daily fiber needs, is naturally sodium-free, and is a good source of lutein, an antioxidant that may protect your vision.
Try it: Enjoy it in place of foods that are higher in saturated fat—use 1/4 to 1/5 of a medium avocado to replace the mayo on your sandwich, the butter on your toast, or the sour cream on your baked potato.
The scoop: Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 found in plants. (They also happen to taste delicious, so they’re even more deserving of a spot on this list.)
Try it: Sprinkle chopped walnuts on a salad, or if you’re feeling crafty, try making one of these tasty nut butters.
3. Other nuts like almonds and pistachios
The scoop: Nuts like pecans, pistachios, cashews, and almonds also pack a lot of healthy fats. Almonds are the richest in vitamin E, and pistachios have lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. A lot of registered dietitians love pistachios because of the fact that you have to shell them, which helps you eat more slowly so you can really savor your food. The peanut (technically a legume) contains monounsaturated fats, along with some omega-6s.
Try it: Since nuts have on average 45 grams of fat per cup (specifics vary based on the type of nut), all you need to eat is a 1/4 cup serving per day to reap the benefits.
4. Nut and seed butters
The scoop: An easier way to get all the fatty goodness of nuts may be from a nut or seed butter. Try almond, cashew, or sunflower seed butter for a plant-based dose of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Try it: Spread 2 tablespoons on toast or eat it with fresh apple slices. Both options are simple, delicious, and nutritious—real winners all around.
The scoop: One cup of black olives has 15 grams of mainly monounsaturated fat. They may be small, but that means olives can help boost your satiety.
Try it: Five large or 10 small olives is a great portion to soak up benefits without having too much sodium (which gives olives their delicious salty flavor).
6. Olive oil
The scoop: It’s become the go-to cooking oil in many kitchens for a good reason: Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats. (A tablespoon of the stuff has 14 grams of fat total.)
Try it: Besides the obvious advice to cook with it, try drizzling olive oil over Greek yogurt with cracked pepper as a savory dip. Not sure which kind to buy? Check out this handy guide.
7. Ground flaxseed
The scoop: Flaxseed is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a good way for vegetarians (or those who don’t eat fish) to meet their needs. Flaxseed also contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, a nutrient that’s key for feeling satiated and keeping things regular in the bathroom. (Yeah, we mean your poop.)
Try it: Sprinkle some on yogurt or oatmeal, scoop a spoonful into a smoothie, or put an interesting spin on a salad with a flaxseed oil-based dressing. Heck, you can even make chocolatey energy bites with this versatile little seed.
The scoop: Oily fish like salmon (and sardines, mackerel, and trout) are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating this fish is one of the best ways to get this essential fat.
The scoop: Tuna also packs a high amount of healthy fats and omega-3s. We’re talking both the conveniently canned stuff and the kind you find at your favorite sushi spot. It’s versatile—tuna steaks, tuna burgers, tuna salad, the options are endless—so it’s pretty easy to fit into your diet.
Try it: Like with salmon, the recommendation here is to have two fish meals a week.
10. Dark chocolate
The scoop: About half of its fat content is saturated, but it also contains healthy fats and numerous other healthy nutrients—vitamins A, B, and E; calcium; iron; potassium; magnesium; and flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants). Bonus: A 1-ounce portion of dark chocolate also boasts 3 grams of fiber.
Try it: An ounce of dark chocolate counts as one serving and contains about 9 grams of fat. While you could have it with something like raspberries or mix some slivers into Greek yogurt, we’re partial to dark chocolate all on its own. (Or covering nuts like almonds. That’s great, too.)
The scoop: Tofu is considered a health food for a reason: It’s a solid plant-based protein made of soybeans, and it’s low in sodium while providing nearly a quarter of your daily calcium needs. It’s not as high in fat as the other foods on this list, but tofu is still a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 3-ounce portion of super-firm tofu contains 5 to 6 grams of fat and about 1 gram of saturated fat.
Try it: There are basically countless ways to incorporate this deliciousness into your life. For dinner, you can throw together something like sheet pan tofu combined with veggies and chickpeas. If you really want to get creative, you could also experiment with these tofu breakfast recipes.
The scoop: Hi, hello, since tofu’s on the list we clearly can’t leave out the plant that is used to make it! Full of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, soybeans are also a great source of plant-based protein and fiber.
Try it: Enjoy them boiled and salted as a tasty and filling snack, or puree them into a green-hued twist on your usual hummus. Here are tons of other ways to ramp up your edamame consumption.
13. Sunflower seeds
The scoop: A serving size (which is 1/4 cup) delivers about 15 grams of unsaturated fat, 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.
Try it: Sprinkle unshelled sunflower seeds on top of your salad, or toss a handful back for a great dose of nutrients.
14. Chia seeds
The scoop: Their popularity is well-deserved: These small but mighty seeds have omega-3s, fiber, protein, essential minerals, and antioxidants.
Try it: Add a tablespoon into your smoothies for a quick fat, fiber, and protein boost, or whip up some DIY chia seed pudding.
The scoop: Eggs are an inexpensive and easy source of protein. People often think egg whites are a healthier option than whole eggs because they contain less fat. While it’s true that the egg yolk contains some fat, it’s also packed with important nutrients (and happens to taste so, so good). One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat, but only 1.5 grams are saturated. Whole eggs are also a good source of choline (one egg yolk has about 300 micrograms), an important B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system.
As for cholesterol in egg yolks? The latest nutrition research has found that egg yolks can be included in a healthy diet and don’t typically impact cholesterol levels in a significant way.
These foods are higher in saturated fat (and should be eaten more sparingly), but they can still be part of a healthy diet:
16 and 17. Lean grass-fed beef and pork
The scoop: Often thought of as a high-fat food, steak is actually not as high in fat as you may think, particularly if you choose leaner cuts. What’s more, lean beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, and zinc—all important nutrients.
One 3-ounce portion of lean beef packs a whopping 25 grams of muscle-building protein, three times the iron of 1 cup of spinach (which is important for carrying the oxygen in your blood to your brain and muscles), and a third of your daily zinc needs to help support your immune system. Lean cuts of pork, like pork tenderloin, can also be a good source of fat and great source of protein when eaten in moderation.
18. Full-fat dairy
The scoop: Since fat in general is satiating, the fat in dairy is no exception. Opting for full-fat dairy can result in the type of satisfaction you might be missing with lower-fat versions. One cup (8 ounces) of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat with 5 grams saturated fat versus skim milk, which contains none of either. Also, the fat will help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients in dairy, like vitamins A and D.
Try it: If you normally have low- or no-fat dairy, upgrade it and see how you feel. For instance, grab some plain, full-fat Greek yogurt you can top with fruit and nuts, or have some chocolate milk as a post-workout snack.
19. Parmesan cheese
The scoop: Yes, it’s dairy, but it deserves its own item for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Cheese often gets a bad rap for being a high-fat food, especially hard, full-fat cheeses such as Parmesan. While it is true that cheeses have more saturated fats than plant-based foods, they provide loads of other nutrients as well. Parmesan, for instance, contains 8 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat per ounce, and it also tops the cheese charts in terms of its bone-building calcium content, providing nearly a third of your daily calcium needs. Finally, there’s the wild and impressive fact that parmesan cheese has more protein ounce for ounce than foods like meat and eggs!
Try it: Sprinkle it on scrambled eggs and salads for a protein-packed hit of flavor. Or add it as the finishing touch to this risotto, which you can make with any grain you have on hand.