Fats play an important role in your diet. They deliver energy of course, but they also carry fat-soluble vitamins and many important plant compounds such as antioxidants. They play a role in slowing stomach emptying and helping to moderate appetite. They influence cholesterol production in the liver. And particular fats are necessary in the body for numerous different systems including brain and skin health.
But that is not a carte blanche to tuck into lashings of butter, cream and coconut oil! While there has been some debate over the links between saturated fat and health, the bottom line is that while these fats may not be as bad for us as once thought, they don’t deliver health benefits either.
On the other hand there are high fat foods that really do have research backing to show that they have many benefits for our health. This is via the types of fats in the food, but also what comes along with the fat. Let’s take a look at 5 of the top healthy high fat foods that you should be eating:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Naturally you knew this one would be top of the list! I’ve been a long term supporter of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil as it really is a quality product and when it comes to oil, quality really matters. Research continues to grow to show that Extra Virgin Olive Oil helps to lower blood pressure, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, several types of cancer and type 2 diabetes, it’s anti-inflammatory and it’s fabulous for skin health.
The fresher and higher quality the oil is, the better it is for you. That’s because not only does Extra Virgin Olive Oil contain predominantly healthy monounsaturated fats, it is also a rich source of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. The majority of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oils meet the high industry standards recommended and I’m delighted to say that after leading advocacy group CHOICE testing 23 supermarket extra virgin olive oils, they announced Australian Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil as the best performer!
Use extra virgin olive oil to cook with (yes it is safe), drizzle, flavour and dress.
There are only two fruits to my knowledge that are rich in fats – olives and avocados. It’s perhaps not all that surprisingly therefore that like olives, avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat. This fat helps to deliver the vitamin E also present, an important antioxidant in the body, and it’s necessary to absorb the array of plant compounds including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin (these play a role in eye health).
Avocados also provide fibre, vitamin C, potassium and they are excellent for folate. All up it’s a pretty impressive nutrition package.
Try enjoying avocado in place of butter or margarine on bread, chop and add to salads, mix with chilli, lime and red onion to make a glorious salsa, mash with coriander and lemon juice to make a guacamole dip or add to a green smoothie for a deliciously creamy flavour.
Some fats we can make in the body – saturated fats for example – but others we must obtain from our food. One of these is a fat called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and this is a plant omega-3 fat. While all nuts are good for us, walnuts are pretty special as they provide almost 2g of ALA per handful – Harvard researchers recommend consuming 2-3g a day.
Walnuts also contain vitamin E, the amino acid arginine which helps to keep blood vessels healthy and blood pressure under control, plant sterols that can help you to lower your blood cholesterol and they deliver a powerful boost of antioxidants. All up this makes walnuts stand out for heart health.
Try snacking on a handful, adding them to a salad, blitzing with extra virgin olive oil, basil, garlic and parmesan to make a walnut pesto or use them in your baking.
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.
Like walnuts chia are rich in plant omega-3 fats, but they also provide some protein and importantly all of the amino acids are present making them terrific to add to a vegetarian meal. While the fats are good for brain and heart health, chia is fantastically rich in a number of different fibres that support gut healthy and microbiome.
Sprinkle chia on your cereal, muesli and salads, add to your smoothies (and drink straight away before it thickens), or let it thicken in water to form a gel that can be used to replace eggs in recipes or to make a chia pudding.
When thinking about omega-3s you might expect me to have listed salmon and this is indeed a fabulous food. But I thought I’d put the spotlight on sardines as they often slip under the radar when we’re talking healthiest foods.
Sardines tick many of my boxes being fantastic from a nutrition perspective, but also an environmental one. Canned sardines get the green light from the Australian Marine Conservation Society. They are fabulously rich in the long chain omega-3 fats we need for heart and especially brain health, while being anti-inflammatory throughout the body.
Being a small fish they also have soft, edible bones and that makes them a terrific source of calcium. Particularly if you don’t eat dairy, popping sardines regularly onto your menu is a great idea.
Canned sardines also help to make healthy eating easy, convenient and cost effective. Keep them in your pantry and grill or panfry to serve with salad or on toast, or toss through pasta with plenty of lemon and herbs.
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