5 All-Star Foods That Are High in Healthy Fats

These superfoods pack good-for-you fats your body needs to thrive. 

If you keep up with nutrition science, you already know that the myth of fat as the enemy of health has long been debunked. In fact, consuming healthy fats is essential for overall well-being. Kate Geagan, MS, RD, a sustainable food and nutrition expert and consultant to Pompeian, explains that fat is much more to our bodies than just a certain number of calories.

Your Body Needs Fat to Thrive

"When it comes to fats, some play a vital role in longevity and vitality because they provide a whole beneficial spectrum of protective, healing benefits in every bite," she says. People who follow an eating approach similar to the Mediterranean Diet, which is high in olive oil and fatty fish, have been shown to have improved cholesterol levels and lowered risk of heart disease, as well as reduced frailty as they age.

Consuming fats is also important for optimal brain functioning. Our brains are made up of about 60 percent fat, after all, and omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, are considered the building blocks of our brains. Fats also add flavor to the foods we eat, making them integral in feeling full and satisfied after eating, as well as making oh-so-important vegetables even more palatable. Just think of the difference between eating steamed broccoli and broccoli roasted to crispy perfection with olive or avocado oil—if you're like most people, the latter makes you positively crave the green stuff.

Prioritize Healthy Fats, Minimize Unhealthy Fats

The key to consuming fat in a way that helps you reap all its benefits is to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats, which function differently in our bodies. Cara Harbstreet, RDN, founder of Street Smart Nutrition, breaks it down for us, explaining that there are two main categories of healthy fats that are considered beneficial: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

"Polyunsaturated fats include [healthy] omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, and are essential fats; meaning they are required for normal body functions, but must come from the diet since our body can't make them," she explains.

The unhealthy fats that should be avoided are saturated fats and trans fats. In high amounts, saturated fats can drive up cholesterol and result in artery blockages. While saturated fats are probably OK in small amounts, trans fats should be eliminated from the diet completely. "Trans fats are man-made and have a negative impact on cholesterol, and create inflammation that can be linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions," says Harbstreet.

How Much Fat Do I Need Every Day?

The USDA recommends healthy adults aim to have 20 to 35 percent of their overall calories come from fat. Ideally, this is spread out over your meals and snacks throughout the day, and combined with other healthy sources of fat, protein, and fiber. What are the best foods to get your healthy fats in? Here's exactly what to eat.

5 of the Healthiest Fat Food Sources You Can Eat

01 of 05

Avocados

Healthy fat foods: Avocado slices on wheat toast
Claudia Totir/getty images

"There are so many reasons to love this fruit (and yes, it is a fruit!)," says Geagan. "Creamy and delicious, bite for bite, avocados are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, boasting nearly 20 vitamins and minerals in every bite, plus a hefty amount of monounsaturated fats (5 grams per serving)." Geagan loves avocados not only for their ability to help keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable, but for their power to boost satiety. This makes them a valuable tool in appetite management, as well as a tasty addition to any meal or snack. Add a third of an avocado to your salad, pair it with your morning eggs, or smear it on some toast with sea salt and a dash of crushed red pepper.

02 of 05

Peanuts

Healthy Fat Foods: bowl of peanuts
FotografiaBasica/getty images

Both nutritionists highly recommend nuts as an excellent way to sneak in healthy monounsaturated fats throughout the day, but Geagan specifically calls out peanuts for being the unsung superhero of the nut family. (Actually, peanuts are technically legumes!) "Often overlooked in terms of pricier or trendier nuts, peanuts are one of the most available, affordable, and versatile superfoods in the grocery store," she says.

Peanuts pack more protein than any other nut, with 7 grams per serving, more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals, and are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. According to Geagan, eating peanuts is linked with better blood pressure, blood sugar, and healthy weight management. Packets of peanut butter (or other nut butters) are easy to throw in your bag or keep in the car, and can be eaten plain or paired with an apple for a nutritious, satisfying, and healthy snack. If you're scooping straight from the jar, aim for a 1 to 2 tablespoons serving.

RELATED: 4 Reasons to Make Pecans Your New, Nutrient-Dense Nut of Choice

03 of 05

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Healthy Fat Foods: bowl of extra virgin olive oil
Senia Effe/EyeEm/getty images

Olive oil is one of the most well-researched fats out there (not to mention one of the most delicious) and has been shown to be protective against diseases and ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance. "There are several components responsible for olive oil's powers," explains Geagan. "The monounsaturated fat [content] is one key reason for its health prowess, but equally importantly, EVOO is teeming with naturally occurring antioxidants and polyphenol compounds that deliver powerful health benefits—from fighting oxidative stress to reducing your risk for cancers, to upregulating a healthy genetic expression." Making olive oil your go-to for drizzling on salads, protein, and veggies is an easy way to get in a daily dose of this potent fat source.

04 of 05

Fatty Fish

Healthy Fat Foods: Salmon fillets on a platter with green beans
Catherine Falls Commercial/getty images

Geagan and Harbstreet both recommend fish as an amazing source of super-healthy omega-3 fats—specifically, salmon, trout, and barramundi. "Eating omega-3 fish twice a week slashes your risk of heart disease and stroke," says Geagan. "These fats, in particular, have also been shown to help lift your mood, reduce feelings of anxiety, and fight depression." In addition to helping with mood, omega-3 fats also help reduce chronic inflammation, which can be a contributor to heart disease, joint pain, GI issues, and more.

05 of 05

Flaxseeds

Healthy Fat Foods: bowl of whole flaxseeds on a wood table
sommail/getty images

These tiny seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of healthy, polyunsaturated fats, and are an excellent way for people who don't eat seafood to get in their omegas (and reap those cardiovascular benefits). While all flaxseed is good, the fatty acids are actually at their most bioavailable (translation: usable by the body) in oil form. Flaxseed oil tastes mildly nutty and slightly bitter, and can be swapped out for olive oil in a vinaigrette. Milled flaxseed is preferable to whole in terms of bioavailability, which you can purchase in most grocery stores. Try mixing a tablespoon or two into your morning smoothie or adding to chocolate chip cookies for a mild, nutty flavor.

RELATED: We All Know Seeds Are Good for You, but These 6 Are the Healthiest

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Kojima G, Avgerinou C, Iliffe S, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet reduces incident frailty risk: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018;66(4):783-788. doi:10.1111/jgs.15251

  2. Hernáez Á, Castañer O, Elosua R, et al. Mediterranean diet improves high-density lipoprotein function in high-cardiovascular-risk individuals: A randomized controlled trial. Circulation. 2017;135(7):633-643. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.023712

  3. Guasch-Ferré M, Hu FB, Martínez-González MA, et al. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Med. 2014;12:78. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-12-78

  4. Wysoczański T, Sokoła-Wysoczańska E, Pękala J, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and their role in central nervous system - A review. Curr Med Chem. 2016;23(8):816-831. doi:10.2174/0929867323666160122114439

  5. Matura S, Prvulovic D, Mohadjer N, et al. Association of dietary fat composition with cognitive performance and brain morphology in cognitively healthy individuals. Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2021;33(3):134-140. doi:10.1017/neu.2021.1

  6. Giacobbe J, Benoiton B, Zunszain P, et al. The anti-inflammatory role of mmega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids metabolites in pre-clinical models of psychiatric, neurodegenerative, and neurological disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2020;11:122. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00122

Related Articles