Almond Butter
/al-muhnd buht-er/

Fats

Almond Butter is literally a paste made from whole or blanched almonds. Look for one made with the whole almonds, as many of the beneficial plant compounds found in the nut are in the skin and the skin adds fibre.

Almond butter is energy dense - a tablespoon provides about 420kJ - but it's also very nutrient dense making it well worthy of a place in your pantry.

The kilojoules mostly come from the fats present, and these are dominated by healthy monounsaturated fats (the same family of fats found in olive oil and avocado). Of 9g of fat per tablespoon, 6g are monounsaturated fats. These have been shown to be of benefit in reducing belly fat and are thought to be a key component leading to the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

Almond butter is a rich source of manganese and magnesium, and a signficant source of phosphorus, copper, iron, calcium, zinc, iron and several B group vitamins. 

Try almond butter on wholegrain toast with sliced banana on top and a glass of milk or dairy alternative for a quick, easy breakfast.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
I often hear nuts being touted as great for protein, however the amounts are actually pretty small in tree nuts. A tablespoon of almond butter will provide only 2g pf protein. If you are vegan however this can be a significant contribution to your day's intake and provides a balance of amino acids to complement your other plant sources. But this is why I classify nuts in my Fats category for the purposes of the Dr Joanna Plate.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Almond Milk
/ah-muhnd milk/

Fats

Almond milk is made principally with water and ground almonds (albeit a very small amount – only 2-3%). Depending on the brand various other ingredients are added; usually sugar or another sweetener such as agave syrup, a small amount of oil such as sunflower or linseed oil and salt. Others also add emulsifiers or natural gums such as carrageenan.
 
Almond milk is terrific for vegans and for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to consume dairy milk. It’s also lactose and gluten free. If you’re watching your weight, almond milk can be useful as it’s low in kilojoules – about the same as skim milk – but with much less protein. The fat content is only a little less than regular milk, although the types of fat are very different. Almond milk is rich in monounsaturated fats that can help you to reduce belly fat and are good for your overall health. Just bear in mind it’s not the same as having a full handful of raw nuts everyday.

Per cup, almond milk provides 380kJ, 2g of protein, 6g of carbohydrate and 7g of fat. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
You can use almond milk on your muesli or cereal, as a drink on it’s own or blended in a smoothie with fruit. My personal favourite is frozen banana, prunes and almond milk – yum! 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Almonds
/al-muhnds/

Fats

Almonds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats - the same family of fats found in olive oil. They are also fibre rich and provide some plant protein. This makes them an excellent snack as they help to cut hunger pangs and keep you satisfied until mealtime. Despite their relative energy density, almonds as with all nuts are associated with better weight control. Make sure you therefore you are not choosing low fat processed snack foods in place of all natural, nutrient dense almonds. 

Almonds are head and shoulders above other nuts for vitamin E. A handful is pretty much all your need for your daily vitamin E quota. Vitamin E is the major fat-soluble antioxidant in the body.

Almonds provide you with calcium - especially important if you don't consume any dairy foods. They're great for many B group vitamins, especially riboflavin and folate, minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and copper. You'll also benefit from a significant amount of iron and zinc - both commonly low in Western diets. That's a pretty impressive package for a single natural whole food!
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Recent research has shown that eating a handul of nuts a day is associated with living longer! It's one of the easiest and tastiest ways to improve your health. I add almonds to my homemade muesli, sprinkle over my kids porridge and snack on them in the afternoon while I drink my green tea. Thank goodness the low fat days are long gone!

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Avocado
/av-uh-kah-doh/

Fats

Avocados are one of only two common fruits that are rich in fat - the other being the olive - and both provide predominantly healthy monounsaturated fats. A solid body of scientific evidence supports making these fats the major ones in your diet. They can help you to achieve a healthier blood cholesterol profile, improve your insulin sensitivity, help you to control blood glucose levels, improve a fatty liver, and even reduce the amount of fat you store around your abdomen.

Avocados are an impressively good source of fibre. Half an avocado contains 6-7g of fibre – almost a quarter of your daily goal.

You may also be surprised to know that avocadoes are a good source of vitamin C. This makes them a great addition to a vegetarian meal as they will help you to absorb more plant iron.
 
Half an avocado also provides about a fifth of your daily folate needs. Folate protects your DNA and cells all around the body from damage and therefore plays a key role in anti-aging.
 
Try using mashed avocado in your sandwich or wrap, on toast instead of butter with sliced tomato, boiled egg and cracked black pepper, dice into salads or make into a guacamole dip. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Although not the richest source of vitamin E, avocados do contain a significant level and it’s highly usable. Vitamin E is a major protector of polyunsaturated fats from oxidation and because these poly fats are low in the fruit, almost all of the vitamin E is available for use within your body instead. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Brazil Nut
/bruh-zil nuht/

Fats

Brazil nuts are grown in the Amazon rainforests and unusually compared to most of our foods, they are harvested from wild trees. The soils in this area aare incredibly nutrient-rich and this leads to a nut with an inredible array of nutrients and phytochemicals including antioxidants, that help our bodies to run at their very best. 

Brazil nuts are one of the best dietary sources of the antioxidant mineral selenium. Just 2-3 nuts are all you need to meet your daily requirement.

Brazil nuts are fibre and protein rich, both factors that slow stomach emptying and have the effect of helping you to feel full and keep hunger pangs at bay. They are also hard work for your body to break down – which is a good thing! It means some of the nut makes it through the colon undigested and carries a few kilojoules straight out the other end. 

As with almost all nuts, Brazil nuts are high in good fats essential to healthy bodies. 42% of the fat present is polyunsaturated, 32% is monounsaturated and 22% saturated fatty acids.  

’s ‘Did You Know?’
Eating a handful of nuts a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30-50%, and of type 2 diabetes by 25%.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Butter
/buht-er/

Fats

Butter is made by churning fresh milk to separate the butterfat from the milk. The butterfat is then churned again to remove further liquid and to force the fat molecules to clump together to create a solid. The butter is then mixed with salt to create salted butter. Unsalted butter can also be bought and is often used in baking so the baker can control the amount of salt in their cooking. But in essence butter is basically fat with a little water dispersed through it. 

65% of the fat present is saturated fat and that is what has put butter on 'foods to limit' list from most health authorities around the world. Although there are now question marks over whether saturated fats really are as bad for us as once thought. What seems to matter is what you replace saturated fat with. Replace butter with a whole load of refined carb low fat products and it doesn't improve your health. But replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats and you improve your blood cholesterol profile and lower your risk of heart disease. A high saturated fat intake has also been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline with age.

Certainly not all saturated fats have the same effects on us. I have read reports claiming that butter is rich in short chain saturated fats and that these have an anti-inflammatory effect. Yet the truth is that 83% of the saturated fats present are long chain with palmitic acid (C16:0) being the major player. Only 10% of the saturated fats present are short chain (C4:0 and C6:0). I'd hardly call that a rich source.

Nevertheless nutritionally butter does get a brownie point. It's a fabulous source of vitamin A with 10g (0.5tb) providing about 20% of an adult's daily requirement. Most of this comes from preformed vitamin A with levels boosted by the presence of beta-carotene. This can be converted to vitamin A in the body. However we can get vitamin A elsewhere and plenty of plant foods give us beta-carotene. It does also have a tiny amount of vitamin D but since 10g of butter only gives you about 1.5% of what you need daily, I suggest a little sunlight is far more effective! It does also have vitamin E, but again in very small amounts - extra virgin olive oil contains more than 4 times the amount.

The bottom line is I recommend swapping butter for extra virgin olive oil, avocado or nut butter where you can. The latter foods have proven health benefits. But using a little butter will certainly do you no harm and is far better than one of those revolting, processed low fat spreads! It certainly tastes wonderful on freshly baked bread and is a must when making a bechamel sauce. But overall I'd choose milk, yoghurt and cheese over butter as they all provide protein and many more nutrients than dairy fat alone, which is what butter is.

For a fantastic in-depth review of the evidence and science behind butter and saturated fats, read "Is butter really back?" from the Harvard School of Nutrition scientists.
  
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The beta-carotene in butter is what gives it that warm yellow colour. Margarines need to have yellow colouring added, although today most use beta-carotene over artificial colours, in order to make it look more like butter. For more on butter versus margarine read my blog on the topic.

Nutritional Information

Gluten Free Nut free Vegetarian
 
 
Cacao
/kuh-kah-oh/

Fats

Theobroma cacao is the proper name for the species tree that produces the cacao bean. I've noticed a trend for everything cocoa to suddenly be called cacao. Technically though cacao is the unfermented, fresh seed and once fermented it becomes cocoa, although there are those who argue the word cocoa came form a mis-spelling of cacao. Regardless the two terms seem to often be used interchangably. The cacao beans are used to make cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa solids and ultimately chocolate.
 
Cocoa is rich in a group of antioxidants known as polyphenolic flavonoids. Cocoa consumption has been associated with a number of health benefits including lower blood pressure, improved blood cholesterol profiles, improved blood vessel health and overall may reduce the risk of heart disease.
 
Cacao nibs are the least processed cocoa products. The beans are roasted before the outer shells are cracked and removed. The resultant pieces of the bean are the cacao nibs. These are sold in health food shops and although expensive, they contain the highest levels of the potentially beneficial plant compounds found in the whole bean. Be aware however that one of these is theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine. While it may have some benefits, such as helping to reduce blood pressure and acting as diuretic, it can affect your sleep. Avoid having too much cocoa late in the day for that reason.
 
Cocoa nibs can be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Cocoa powder retains many of the beneficial antioxidants and is an easy way of adding cocoa into your diet without the kilojoules (or sugar in most) of chocolate. It even provides some iron and other minerals. Cocoa powder is however usually further processed with alkali – called Dutch processing - to reduce the bitter taste and make it more soluble. Unfortunately this also reduces the flavonoid content. Look for raw cocoa powder to maximise the antioxidants present, but be ready for a more powerful cocoa taste!
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Cocoa butter is rich in saturated fats, although about a third is stearic acid. This saturated fat acts differently to other saturated fats in that it is not cholesterol raising, and in fact it lowers LDL-cholesterol. Another third of the fats in cocoa butter is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, the same as that found in olive oil. This makes it a pretty healthy fat overall.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Cashew
/kash-oo/

Fats

Compared to other common nuts, cashews (along with pine nuts) top the charts for iron and zinc. Try consuming with a vitamin-C rich piece of fruit to optimise iron intake, especially if you are a vegetarian.

Cashews also provide some protein, with a 30g handful supplying about 5g. Of the total energy in cashews, 75% comes from fat, 12% comes from protein and 12% comes from carbohydrates.

Although fat-rich, cashews are full of exactly the good fats we want in our diets. 63% of the fat present is monounsaturated fats, 15% is polyunsaturated fats, and 17% is saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are a cornerstone of the healthy Mediterranean dietary pattern, and a high intake of these fats is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and less fat around the middle. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Cashews are rich in magnesium with a handful delivering you about 20% of your RDI. Magnesium is an increasingly popular supplement, but it's not all that difficult to up your dietary intake for greater benefit. Adding a handful of nuts a day is a good start!

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Chia
/chee-uh/

Fats

Chia are rich in plant omega-3 fats, antioxidants, protein and contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. Put your chia seeds in water and you can see the soluble fibre for yourself – in just a few minutes the water becomes a gel. This process in your gut after eating the seeds is a good thing! It slows the access of your digestive enzymes to any carbohydrates present in the meal, thereby lowering the GI and helping you manage your blood sugar levels. You’ll also feel fuller and find you are satisfied with less food. The fibre in chia fuels the good bacteria in your colon, lowering your risk of colon cancer and other gut disorders, while boosting immune function. 

Chia are also one of the few plant foods to supply high amounts of the plant omega-3 fat ALA. While this is not quite the same as the long chain omega-3s found in oily fish, it is beneficial nonetheless and plays an anti-inflammatory role in the body. 10g of chia seeds provides about 2g of omega-3 fats. The National Heart Foundation recommends that we consume plant omega-3s every day, but also try to consume an oily fish or other source of long chain omega-3s twice a week.

Chia seeds are about 20% protein and unusually for a plant they contain all of the essential amino acids. They are therefore a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets. 

Chia is also one fo the few foods that are truly wholegrain - you buy and eat them completely intact.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Chia as a food source can be traced back to the Mayans and Aztecs around 3500BC. They recognised its value in giving them energy and the messengers who travelled on foot allegedly carried a bag of chia to keep their energy levels up while running. If you've read the fantastic book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall you'll know the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico - legendary long distance runners - also use chia to fuel their running.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Chocolate
/chaw-kuh-lit/

Fats

Chocolate is a favourite food the world over. It has been consumed for some 4000 years, although the modern form of chocolate is far removed from its more humble beginnings. The ancient civilisations of South and Central America, including the Aztecs and Mayans, are thought to be the first to make chocolate, but as a bitter cocoa drink rather than the sweet bars of chocolate we enjoy today. They collected cocoa beans from the Theobroma cacao tree - a fruit tree that grows in the tropics. The beans were fermented, roasted and dried in the sun, before being ground into a paste they mixed with water, honey, vanilla and spices to make a bitter, cocoa drink. They apparently believed cocoa to be an energy enhancer, to increase libido and a mood booster. Not so different to the thoughts surrounding chocolate today!

Cocoa beans are now a major commmodity as they are actually quite difficult to farm and only grow in a few tropical areas of the world with 75% coming from within 8 degrees either side of the equator. Cocoa farmers still ferment, roast and dry the beans, but they are then sold on to chocolate producers all around the world. To make what we think of as chocolate, the beans are first ground until they liquify to make a paste called chocolate liquer. This is then mixed with cocoa butter (the natural fat present in the cocoa bean - extra is added for a smoother end product), sugar, lecithin (a natural emulsifier), milk (for milk chocolate) and flavours depending on the desired product.

Nutritionally there is much interest in the phytochemicals present in cocoa. Primarily these belong to a group of antioxidants called flavonoids. These are powerful antioxidants that help to protect cells around the body from damaging free radicals. Cocoa flavonoids have been shown to protect LDL-cholesterol from oxidation - this is important as it is oxidised LDL that is taken up into plagues in the artery walls, causing atherosclerosis. Cocoa has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and may also protect against some forms of cancer. However to gain these benefits you need to be eating high cocoa chocolate - look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. 

You will still get some cocoa of course in milk chocolate, but there also tends to be more sugar added and the result is a food that is extremely moreish and easy to overeat! Be mindful that while there are certainly health benefits to chocolate, it is also an energy-dense food that will not help long term weight control if you overeat it. A 100g bar of chocolate provides 2000-2500kJ, depending on the variety. That's brilliant if you're climbing a mountain and need such energy-dense food, but not so fabulous when you're sitting at your desk all day! Stick to a 20-30g portion and you can enjoy the taste and health benefits, without the hindrance of too many kilojoules. Choosing dark chocolate is helpful in this regard with its more adult, bitter taste you feel satisfied more quickly. If you find dark chocolate too bitter try eating it with fresh berries or dried fruits such as prunes or dried apricots for an all-natural, totally decadent treat.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Dark chocolate is rich in several minerals. That shouldn't really be surprising given that it is made from the seed of a fruit tree! A 28g portion of dark chocolate provides 3.3mg of iron (24% of the RDI for women under 50, 41% for men & women over 50). This is non-haem iron and will not therefore be absorbed as well as that from meat, but nevertheless that's a significant amount for a plant food. It's also a rich source of copper, manganese and magnesium, with smaller levels of phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Nutritional Information

Gluten Free Nut free Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Coconut
/koh-kuh-nuht/

Fats

Coconuts are thought to have originated in Malaysia, but today are grown in tropical regions all around the world, although less common in the equatorial regions of Africa or South America. Coconut is not a true nut, but a kind of fruit called a 'drupe'. But nutritionally it is much more like a nut.

The energy from coconut comes almost entirely from fat. 1/2 cup of grated coconut flesh provides 550kJ, 1.5g of protein, 1.5g of carbohydrate and 13g of fat. Like other nuts it's also fibre rich with 3.3g.

The fatty acids present are quite different to tree nuts - where tree nuts are high in unsaturated fatty acids, in coconut 93% of the fatty acids are saturated. This has put coconut on the 'eat sparingly' list of heart health recommendations around the world. However this is now being revisited as the association between saturated fat and heart disease is questioned.

The other thing we now understand is that not all saturated fats are the same. Coconut fat is extremely rich in a particular saturated fat called lauric acid. This is a 12 carbon chain fatty acid, putting it at the low end of what are called the long chain fatty acids. Unlike the longer chain saturated fats, lauric acid has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol profiles, and in fact if it is replaced by refined carbohydrates in the diet this makes matters worse. In other words, cutting out coconut and eating lots of low fat snacks made from white flour would have a detrimental effect on your blood lipid profiles and your risk of heart disease.

Coconut also has small levels of medium chain (8 and 10 carbon chain) saturated fats and these are burned more readily as fuel in the body than other fats. But this doesn't make coconut fat burning, as I've seen it promoted. Adding coconut to a meal will not magically make you burn more fat - you still have to burn off that extra energy it brings you! But certainly having coconut in place of other less healthy fats may be beneficial, but there is much we have to learn in this area. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Despite coconut being hailed as the latest superfood, the evidence isn't quite there to make it so. I'm all for enjoying it as part of your plant-food rich, whole food diet, but it just doesn't have the nutritional credentials of other nuts. It's not particularly rich in any vitamin or mineral bar manganese, otherwise there are only small levels (4% or less of your recommended daily intake in a half cup) of niacin, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. There may be some phytonutrients present, but there is as yet scant information on this. So by all means enjoy a little coconut in your diet, but be sure to include the fat-rich foods we do have truckloads of evidence for such as nuts, avocado and extra virgin olive oil.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Coconut Flour
/koh-kuh-nuht flouuh r/

Fats

Coconut flour is really a by-product of coconut milk production. Coconut flesh is pressed to release the coconut milk and it is the leftover flesh that is dried and then ground to make coconut flour. It's garnering attention as the demand for gluten-free and grain-free baking increases (although not always for the right reasons!).

It takes some getting used to baking with coconut flour as it doesn't behave in the same way as grain flours. It is highly absorbent and so you'll find that you need a lot of liquid and the batter you produce is typically far runnier than traditional recipes. It is best used with lots of eggs - a good guide is 1/4 cup of coconut flour to 3 eggs - and oil of some sort to give a moist end product. Without adding fat you'll find you have a very crumbly dry muffin or cake. I recommend following recipes carefully to start with before experimenting yourself. I've been playing with it a fair bit recently with some great results.

Nutritionally I like it. There do appear to be variations between brands, but in essence coconut flour is a source of protein, low in digestible carbohydrates and hence has a low glycaemic load. 2 tablespoons provides about 500kJ, 4g of protein, 4g of fat and 6g of carbohydrate. It's really high in fibre with 2 tablespoons providing almost 10g. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Try using coconut flour as a coating for chicken or turkey before frying or baking. If you don't need a gluten-free end product, try mixing it with regular flour to boost the fibre content and reduce the carbohydrate and glycaemic load of breads, muffins, cakes and biscuits. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Coconut Milk
/koh-kuh-nuht milk/

Fats

Coconut milk is traditionally made by squeezing the liquid from the coconut flesh. If left to settle the cream will rise to the top and the more watery component to the bottom. To counteract this many canned coconut milks have an emulsifier added – these are usually natural plant extracts and so not problematic. Many also have preservatives added. All additives must be listed in the ingredients list so you can make the best choice for you. I prefer one with just the coconut milk and nothing else - just be aware that you will have to mix or shake the contents well before using.
 
Coconut milk has over double the kilojoules of full cream milk, and over four times the fat content. Although coconut has become the most recent darling of the health food store, it is worth bearing this mind. It’s not a product to use in place of dairy milk and I don’t recommend it on your cereal! However I do like that the fats are all naturally present, coconut milk has minimal processing and it does add stacks of flavour. Just be mindful that the portion size should be much smaller than the other milks and you’ll use it in different ways.
 
Coconut milk is divine in Asian style curries, to make some desserts or try adding a dash to a smoothie of frozen banana, pineapple and coconut water. Delicious!
’s ‘Did You Know?’
While coconut products were once vilified for their high saturated fat content, this has recently been called into question. We now understand that not all saturated fats have the same effects on health, and the major fat in coconut is lauric acid - a 12 carbon chain saturated fat. This seems to popularly be referred to as a medium chain fat (MCT), however technically only the 8 and 10 chain fats are MCTs. Coconut also has a small number of these MCTs.

MCTs are more readily burned as fuel in the body and are less likely to be stored as body fat - but only if you are burning them off! You can't just eat MCTs and expect the energy to dissipate! So take care not to overdose on coconut products thinking they are super good for you, without considering portion size. 

Neverthelss lauric acid has also been shown to raise 'good' HDL cholesterol. These discoveries have led to coconut products being the darling of the health aisle right now. It's important to point out the research is not conclusive yet - it doesn't have the wealth of evidence behind extra virgin olive oil for example. But I do watch this space with interest. While I use coconut oil on occasion, I much prefer to use the whole food and enjoy a little coconut milk or coconut flesh. This provides a few nutrients at the same time and not just the conentrated energy of the fat component.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Coconut Oil
/koh-kuh-nuht oil/

Fats

Coconut oil is very in vogue right now and is touted as the latest superfood. It is literally extracted from coconut flesh so that you get only the fat component, without any of the fibre or the small amounts of protein and carbs present in the whole coconut. It has traditionally been used as a cooking oil in parts of India, South Asia and in many tropical parts of the world.

The fatty acids present are quite different to tree nuts - where tree nuts are high in unsaturated fatty acids, in coconut 93% of the fatty acids are saturated. This has put coconut on the 'eat sparingly' list of heart health recommendations around the world. However this is now being revisited as the association between saturated fat and heart disease is questioned.

The other thing we now understand is that not all saturated fats are the same. Coconut fat is extremely rich in a particular saturated fat called lauric acid. This is a 12 carbon chain fatty acid, putting it at the low end of what are called the long chain fatty acids. Unlike the longer chain saturated fats, lauric acid has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol profiles, and in fact if it is replaced by refined carbohydrates in the diet this makes matters worse. In other words, cutting out coconut and eating lots of low fat snacks made from white flour would have a detrimental effect on your blood lipid profiles.

Coconut also has small levels of medium chain (8 and 10 carbon chain) saturated fats and these are burned more readily as fuel in the body than other fats. But this doesn't make coconut fat burning, as I've seen it promoted. Adding coconut oil to a meal will not magically make you burn more fat - you still have to burn off that extra energy it brings you! But certainly having coconut oil in place of other less healthy fats may be beneficial, but there is much we have to learn in this area. 

There is some interest and evidence to show that coconut oil may have anti-microbial and anti-viral effects. However whether this has any practical relevance as part of your diet is as yet unknown.

From a nutritional perspective coconut oil, like any other pure fat, is very energy-dense. A tablespoon of coconut oil gives you 505kJ and, unlike some other oils, it provides no vitamins or minerals.

If this helps to fill you up and reduces your intake of other foods then perhaps it is useful, but I can't for the life of me see why you would want to add it to your smoothies or take it as a supplement as some claim to do. By all means enjoy the whole coconut so that you benefit from the fibre, and enjoy using a little of the oil in cooking. It does smell divine and works beautifully for curries, stir-fries and in some baking recipes. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Various methods are used to extract the fat from coconut. These can involve the use of solvents such as hexane, high heat, or other refining processes. For the best quality look for virgin coconut oil that uses a press to extract the oil from the dried coconut flesh.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Flaxseed
/flaks-seed/

Fats

Flaxseeds - also known as linseed - are especially rich in fibre. Adding just a tablespoon to your breakfast delivers an extra 3g of fibre.

Flaxseed, along with chia, is a stand-out amongst seeds as being one of the highest sources of plant omega-3 fat ALA. While these are not quite the same as the long chain omega-3s found in oily fish, they are beneficial nonetheless and play an anti-inflammatory role in the body.

Flaxseeds will also provide a significant amount of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and about 10% of your daily requirement for thiamin.

Flaxseeds are rich in plant compounds called lignans. These have been shown to have anti-cancer properties and may help to prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells. Early evidence shows the dietary lignans may be especially protective in hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
King Charlemagne, the King of the Franks in the 8th Century, apparently was so convinced of the health benefits of eating flaxseeds that he made it compulsory by law that everyone in his Kingdom consumed them! 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Hazelnut
/hey-zuhl-nuht/

Fats

If you only ever eat hazelnuts when you succumb to the lure of a Ferrero Rocher, then it's time to give them their share of the nutritional spot light. 80% of the fat present in hazelnuts are monounsaturated fats - the same family of fats we find in olive oil and avocado.

They provide a whole host of nutrients including the major fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin in the body - vitamin E. A 30g handful of hazelnuts provides 45% of your recommended daily intake. They are also good for the minerals copper and manganese, and the B group vitamin folate.

You probably think of vegetables as foods to give us antioxidants, but hazelnuts are pretty good competitors here. They are rich in a number of beneficial plant compounds with antioxidant power - giving them high overall antioxidant power. Most of these compounds are found in the skin, so be sure to eat the whole nut.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
If you're a vegetarian, hazelnuts are especially useful in adding plant protein, while all of us can benefit from their fibre content.

If you're worried that nuts including hazelnuts, are very energy dense, rest assured that studies have consistently shown that nuts are helpful in weight control, and not fattening at all.

Although they are indeed energy dense, it seems that we don't absorb and utilise all of the energy and because they are so nutrient dense, they do a great job of reducing our appetite and preventing us from eating less nutritious foods. And if you're following a gluten free diet, you might like to try using hazelnut meal in place of gluten containing flours in baking. Look for one that contains the nut skins, or you can make your own if you have a Vitamix or similar quality blender.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Macadamia Nut
/mak-uh-dey-mee-uh nuht/

Fats

Macadamia nuts were once vilified for being high in fat. They are indeed fat-rich with 74g of fat per 100g. But thankfully we now understand much more about the role of fats in our diet and the benefits of good fats. Macadamias have quite a different fat profile to other tree nuts. Over 80% of the fat present is monounsaturated fat - that's the same type of fat found in olive oil and avocadoes, and is a key component of the super healthy Mediterranean Diet. 

Macadamias provide many micronutrients including the B group vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and B6, along with magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and phosphorus. If you're a vegetarian, consuming your nuts with a piece of vitamin C rich fruit will help you to absorb more of the iron. They're also fibre-rich.

Try macadamias on their own as a snack, chopped and added to your cereal or muesli, sprinkled over a salad, crushed and mixed with herbs as a topping for baked chicken or fish, or mix into a fruit crumble topping.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Monounsaturated fats are very stable and less easily damaged, both in foods and once in the body, than polyunsaturated fats. They have been associated with less abdominal body fat - the type of fat that is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. They also help improve blood cholesterol profiles. In fact eating macadamias regularly has been shown to reduce LDL-cholesterol and increase HDL-cholesterol - exactly what you want. Including foods such as nuts as a snack instead of low fat snacks based on refined carbs, also helps to reduce triglyceride levels - another heart disease risk factor - and will help control blood glucose levels, manage appetite and overall help you to control your weight. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Olive Oil
/ol-iv oil/

Fats

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats – they are also only one of two fruits that are fat rich (the other being the avocado). A solid body of scientific evidence supports making these fats the major ones in your diet. They can help you to achieve a healthier blood cholesterol profile, improve your insulin sensitivity, help you to control blood glucose levels, improve a fatty liver, and even reduce the amount of fat you store around your abdomen.
 
The Mediterranean diet is hailed quite rightfully as one of the healthiest in the world. This diet has been associated with lower rates of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of stroke, better cognitive health, lower risk of diabetes, and lower risks of many cancers. There are many factors that may contribute to this, but one of the key characteristics is the use of olive oil as a staple food and the principal fat.
 
It is important to buy extra virgin olive oil however and not products labeled as “light”, “pure olive oil” or “pomace”. These are all refined products and do not contain the health promoting qualities of fresh extra virgin olive oil. Refining the oil removes many of the antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols present in the fresh extra virgin oil that benefit us. Oil is not like wine – it doesn’t get better with age. The fresher it is the better. Choose quality over quantity and you will reap the benefits.
 
It’s a myth that cooking with extra virgin olive oil destroys its benefits. Good quality extra virgin olive oil has a high smoke point of around 210°C. It can be used for stir-fries, on the BBQ, roasting foods in the oven and pan-frying. Store your oil in a cool dark place to retain the freshness and health-promoting properties. And use it regularly so that you are always consuming this year’s batch. 
 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Fat helps deliver taste and flavour, but it is also necessary for the absorption of many antioxidants including beta-carotene, not to mention the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Drizzling extra virgin olive oil over your salad or steamed veg adds flavour (so you eat more plant food) and makes sure you can absorb more of those beneficial plant compounds. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Peanut
/pee-nuht/

Fats

Peanuts are actually a member of the legume family that includes beans and chickpeas. There are therefore quite different to tree nuts, although nutritionally similar. Peanuts are an enormously popular nut and you can buy them still in their shells (often called monkey nuts), raw in their skins, dry roasted and roasted with or without added salt. In Indonesia peanuts are ground and used in satay sauces and in salads, while in North Africa they are roasted and added to couscous giving a delicious flavour and crunch.

A handful of peanuts (about 30g) provides 670kJ, 7g of protein, 5g of carbohydrate, 2g of fibre and 14g of fat. 73% of the energy in peanuts comes from fat and therefore I include peanuts in the Good Fat section of my Dr Joanna Plate. However it's worth remembering that peanuts are a valuable source of protein and so they are particularly advantageous for vegetarians and vegans. 

About half of the fat present is healthy monounsaturated fat, similar to that found in olive oil and avocado. This type of fat has been associated with less belly fat and a lower risk of many chronic diseases. Around 30% is polyunsaturated fat and less than 15% is saturated fat. This healthy fat distribution makes them a great addition to your diet, allergies excepted.

They are also nutrient-dense. They are a very good source of folate, niacin, thiamin, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. They also provide good levels of iron and zinc, adding to their value in vegetarian and vegan diets in particular.

On the downside peanuts are also one of the most common food allergies. In Australia about 3% of children have an allergy to peanuts. About a fifth of them will grow out of the allergy, but for those with the severest allergic reaction analyphylaxis, it is more likely to be a lifelong problem. Such reactions are life-threatening and this has led, quite rightfully, to peanuts (and other nuts) being banned from schools and taken out of kids food products. However in the absence of allergy I do urge parents to use nuts, including peanuts, at home. They are highly nutritious for most children.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Recent research has shown that avoiding potentially allergenic foods such as peanuts during pregnancy and breast-feeding, may in fact increase the risk of allergy rather than decrease it. The current advice is therefore to include such foods in your diet. If you are concerned and have a history of food allergy in your family, seek further advice from your allergy specialist.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Peanut Butter
/pee-nuht buht-er/

Fats

Peanut butter is one of those foods once thought of as fattening, due to its high fat content, but now being reappraised as we understand more about types of fat and how they influence our bodies.

Fat is indeed the major source of kilojoules in peanut butter; fat provides over 70% of the kilojoules. But over 50% of the fat is monounsaturated fat - the type also found in olive oil and avocadoes - and a further third is polyunsaturated fat. When these fats replace saturated and trans fats, and/or refined carbohydrates in our diet, we see an improvement in blood cholesterol profiles and a reduction in blood triglycerides. Together these factors lower our risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

This doesn't mean you can eat peanut butter by the jar. It is an energy dense food with a tablespoon providing around 650kJ. However by adding peanut butter to wholegrain toast, or spreading on celery sticks, you create a nutrient-dense meal or snack that will satisfy and help prevent you from overeating the wrong foods. Just watch your portion size.

That same tablespoon also provides 6g of protein. This makes a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets in particular, but all of us should be eating more plant protein and reducing our reliance on animal proteins. I encourage us all to have as broad a mix of protein sources as possible.

Peanut butter is a stand out for niacin with a tablespoon providing over 40% of your recommended daily intake. We need niacin daily as it's a water-soluble vitamin and we don't store it in the body. It's required to convert our food into energy, for healthy skin, it's involved in preventing and repairing DNA damage, and is essential for the nerve and digestive systems.

Peanut butter is also a good source of phosphorus and magnesium, with significant levels of thiamin, zinc and folate. 

Peanuts are however an allergen and one of those most likely to result in a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. Be sure to leave peanuts and peanut butter out of kids lunchboxes for that reason. But do remember the majority of kids are not allergic, and so for families not affected you can happily give them peanut butter at home.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Be choosy when buying peanut butter. The best brands have only peanuts listed in the ingredients list. You should also find that some of the oil has separated and is floating on top of the jar. This is normal and a sign that no emulsifiers have been added. Simply give the contents a stir before using. By contrast many commercial varieties add salt, sugar, emulsifiers and sometimes preservatives. These will be listed on the ingredients list and I suggest you avoid these. Best of all, you can also make your own peanut butter if you own a powerful blender such as a Vitamix. Once you've experienced warm, freshly made peanut butter you'll never go back! It's cheaper too and you can be assured of the quality of the nuts used. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Peanut Oil
/pee-nuht oil/

Fats

Peanut oil is a popular cooking oil due to its relative stability. This is due to the high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids present; 46% of the oil is monounsaturated fat, 35% polyunsaturated fat and 18% saturated fat.

Unfortunately most of the peanut oil on supermarket shelves is refined. This means heat, pressure and/or chemicals are used to extract the oil from the peanuts. This results in a loss of beneficial compounds present in the whole food, and the production of less desirable and sometimes downright damaging chemicals. I never use refined oils at home, but they are unavoidable when eating out I'm afraid. Nevertheless I consider peanut oil to be better than many other alternatives restaurants may use.

You can buy unrefined, cold pressed peanut oil in health and whole food stores, as well as in the health aisle of larger supermarkets. This can be a good option for cooking curries and stir-fries, although I have to admit I just use my extra virgin olive oil for these applications. However there are times when the delicate nut flavour of peanut oil works well.

Peanut oil does contain a reasonable amount of vitamin E and this is the major protector of fats in the oil itself and in the body from oxidation. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Peanuts are actually a legume and not related to tree nuts. If you have an allergy to tree nuts you may be OK with peanuts and vice versa, but check with your allergist to be sure. If you do have a peanut allergy you should also avoid peanut oil. Although the allergy is to the protein, there may be traces left in the peanut oil. Those with milder intolerances will probably find they are OK with the oil. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Pecan Nut
/pi-kahn nuht/

Fats

Pecans have an impressively high antioxidant score compared to other nuts. Compared to other common nuts, pecans have the top spot for antioxidant power. To put that in perspective, antioxidant power is measured by the ORAC assay. Wild blueberries have an ORAC value of 9,621 μmol TE/100g, while pecans ORAC value is 17,940 μmol TE/100g. Almost double!

They are especially high in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols, which help to protect LDL-cholesterol from damage. It is damaged LDL-cholesterol that is taken up into plagues in the arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis. 

55% of the fat in pecans is monounsaturated fat - this is type that dominates in the healthy Mediterranean diet. 35% are polyunsaturated fats and only 6% are saturated fats. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 showed that a pecan-enriched diet improved blood cholesterol profiles of men and women without increasing body weight. This was not eating them as part of pecan pie however!  click here to read the abstract

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Pepita
/puh-pee-tuh/

Fats

Pepitas are pumpkin seeds. Around 70% of the energy in pepitas comes from fat, but it's primarily healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Including these fats in your diet is important for heart and brain health, and can even help you to stay lean.

They are especially rich in iron, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around the world. A tablespoon of pepitas provides about 10% of the daily iron requirement for adult women and over 20% for men and post-menopausal women.
 
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. You need it for a healthy immune system, to keep your blood pressure where it should be, for normal muscle and nerve function, to manage blood glucose levels and to keep your bones strong. 

They're also rich in manganese, phosphorus and magnesium, and pretty good for vitamin K and copper too. So all up pepitas are truly a nutrient dense food that is worthy of adding to your shopping basket.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Although I classify all seeds in my Good Fats section of the Plate, pepitas are also good sources of protein. A 30g serve of pepitas sprinkled over your salad adds about 7g of protein. That's pretty impressive and especially important for vegetarian and vegan meals.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats

 
 
Pine Nut
/pahyn nuht/

Fats

Pine nuts are the seeds of pinecones and are found in forest regions in the northern hemisphere.  They’ve have been a staple food in the Native American diet for over 10,000 years. Pine nuts have a very elegant, sweet and buttery taste with crunchy texture. Heating them gently over a medium heat enhances their flavour beautifully. I love to add them to salads, toss them through a pasta or grain dish, they are essential in a classic pesto or I simply scatter them over my poached eggs for brekkie.
 
Pine nuts are an absolute nutritional powerhouse being rich in several vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They are especially rich in magnesium with a tablespoon of nuts providing over 33mg - that's 10% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for adult women and 8% for adult men. Magnesium is crucial for proper nerve and muscle function, and for a strong healthy heart. Pine nuts are also fabulously rich in Vitamin E, the major fat-soluble antioxidant in the body. While there is no RDI set for Vit E, a tablespoon of pine nuts provides 27% of that considered adequate for an adult woman and 20% for the adult man. The other stand out nutrient is zinc, often low in Western diets, with that same tablesoon giving adult women 10% of their RDI and adult men 6%.

As with other nuts and seeds, pine nuts are rich in fats, but these are predominantly the good fats we want in our diets. Almost 60% comes from polyunsaturated fats. When these replace saturated fats in the diet research clearly shows that this reduces LDL-cholesterol and improves HDL-choclesterol levels, in turn reducing heart disease risk. The Vitamin E present in pine nuts is there to protect these fats from oxidative damage; a wonderful example of how nature works in harmony. A further 34% of the fats present are monounsaturated fats, similar to those found in olive oil and avocado. While only 6% are saturated fats. 
 
 

’s ‘Did You Know?’
Pine Nuts have been consumed for thousands of years. There is evidence of both the Romans and Greeks eating pine nuts as early as 300BC.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Good Fats