411 on Healthy Fats

a woman with a fork on her mouth

Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN/LDN, FAND, LSS BB

Registered Dietitian


Low-fat? High fat? Keto? Paleo? Which one are we supposed to follow? There are so many diet trends out there it can be hard to decipher what we should really be eating.  But as the body of research continues to mount, it is getting easier to make some recommendations, especially when it comes to fat intake.


How much?

Studies continue to show that we no longer have to minimize our fat intake but instead focus on the type of fat we’re eating.  Current recommendations say that between 20-35% of calories should come from fat. So for someone eating around 2,ooo calories per day, that’s about 400-700 calories or 45-75 grams of fat. 


What kind?

Yes, the type of fat matters.  You’ve probably heard a lot of long “chemically” words thrown around when talking about the various kinds of fat, so let’s break it down.

First, you have saturated and unsaturated fat.  ‘Saturation’ refers to the way the fat molecule is built.  The only thing you need to remember is we need to keep saturated fat consumption to a minimum, less than 7-10% of our daily intake.  You can find it in fatty meats, dairy, certain oils, coconut, and many processed foods. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are very goods for us.  You may have heard the terms mono and polyunsaturated fats or maybe even omega-3 and omega-6 fats.  Again, these terms refer to their structure and help differentiate between the different kinds of fats. Recent studies have shown that when reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet, we need to replace them with unsaturated fats and not refined/processed carbohydrates. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Eating refined carbohydrates in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.”


Health benefits

Each type of unsaturated fat supports your health in its own way.  That being said, don’t focus on eating a one type of fat to see that one benefit.  Instead, aim for variety!   Here are just a few ways they can support long-term health.  They can:

  • Promote normal brain and nervous system functions
  • Lower bad (LDL) cholesterol
  • Increase good (HDL) cholesterol
  • Support overall heart health
  • Reduce inflammation in the body


    Where to find them

    Healthy fats can be found in a variety of whole foods, and it just so happens that these foods are also loaded with other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals; it’s a win-win!  Here are just a few examples:

    • Seeds – Hemp, flax, and of course, chia!
    • Nuts – Walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, macadamia (any nut, really)
    • Oils – Extra virgin olive (EVOO) chia, hemp, canola, sunflower, soy, flax, walnut
    • Fatty Fish – Salmon, herring, sardines
    • Fruit – Avocado


    Cooking with Healthy Fats

    There are so many delicious ways to incorporate healthy fats into your daily eating. Here’s a little inspiration to get you started:

    • Breakfast: Chia pudding topped with granola and toasted nuts
    • Lunch: Farmer’s Market Salad (whatever is in season locally!), topped with chia seeds, diced avocado, and a chia oil-based dressing
    • Dinner: Pan-seared salmon with a walnut pesto and veggies sauteed in chia oil


    In addition to eating these foods, you can also cook with healthy oils. Keep in mind that some can withstand more heat than others.  Here’s a helpful guide:

    • High Heat (Deep frying, Searing, Browning): Avocado, sunflower, peanut
    • Medium Heat (Sautéing or Baking): Chia, canola, sesame, EVOO, hemp
    • No Heat (Dressings, Dips, Drizzling): Chia, flax, walnut, EVOO, hemp


    Whether you’re eating healthy fats or cooking with healthy oils, do remember that while good for you, they are calorie-dense. In this situation, more is not always better, and a little can go a long way!