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5 High-Fat Foods That Won’t Make You Gain Weight

A doctor explains why the right amount of healthy fats is good for you

Video: This Doctor Explains Why Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

If you’re like many of my patients, you’re probably trying to figure out how to eat healthy, manage your weight and ward off diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Good for you! An ounce of prevention and a healthy lifestyle are always the best bet. But I’d like to shed light on a topic that tends to cause some confusion, and that is the question of “healthy fats.” 

My patients often want to know: What are “good” fats? What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat? Which foods should I eat or not eat because they’re high in fat? Perhaps the following is the question I’m most often asked:

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Does eating fat make you fat?

The answer is no. Fats play an important role in our diet, and our bodies need them to function properly. But we need to consume fats the right way. We gain weight if we consume more calories than we burn, and it doesn’t really matter where those calories come from. Having said that, we need to keep in mind that fat contains more calories per gram than any other macronutrient. That means that if your body needs 2,000 calories per day to remain at the same weight and you consume 2,000 calories of fat — say, by eating nothing but bacon — you won’t gain weight, but that doesn’t mean you’re eating healthy.

It’s important to maintain a balanced diet, especially as we age. Studies show that Americans 65 and older are not eating as well as they used to. One study, as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that the percentage of older people eating a poor-quality diet rose from 51 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2018.

We know that a diet lacking in essential nutrients can lead to chronic disease, disability or even death in older people, and fat is one of these nutrients.

What percentage of your daily diet should come from fat?

To maintain a healthy diet, adults should get 20 percent to 35 percent of their daily caloric intake from fats. Fats are a nutrient that the body needs to absorb vitamins A, D and E, which keep our bones strong and our organs and immune system working properly. But not all fats are created equal.

What are the different types of fats, and why do we need good fats?

Total fats include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans fats. The key is to eat good fats, which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You’ve probably heard these unsaturated fats referred to as “good fats” or “healthy fats.”

Monounsaturated fats have multiple health benefits, such as lowering your bad cholesterol (LDL). They aid in cell development and maintenance. They are in liquid form at room temperature, but they become solid when chilled. Olive oil and canola oil are two examples. Monounsaturated fats are also found in such foods as nuts and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats include essential fatty acids — known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids — which are not produced by the body but are essential to cell growth and brain function. These fatty acids are found in foods of both animal and vegetable origin, such as fish, certain nuts and seeds and vegetable oils.

Not-so-healthy fats include saturated and trans fats. Foods of animal origin — such as beef, pork, poultry, whole dairy and eggs — and tropical oils (coconut and palm oil) contain saturated fats. Because they’re solid at room temperature, they’re often called “solid fats.” Consuming a lot of saturated fat can adversely affect your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.

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Trans fats are produced when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats. They’re used to extend the shelf life of food products, but they have no nutritional value and are bad for your health. Among other harmful effects, these fats hurt your cholesterol profile by raising your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol (HDL).

5 foods that are high in healthy fats

Below are some foods that are high in healthy fats, along with their health benefits. Not only are they delicious, but they can also help you prevent disease. Unsaturated fats can relieve inflammation, help lower your blood cholesterol and even stabilize your heart rate. Despite these benefits, you still need to watch how much you eat each day. The first food in our list, for example, is avocados, but each avocado contains some 20 grams of monounsaturated fat. That’s about a third of the fat you should be eating each day. And that’s OK, as long as you watch how much fat — and how many overall calories — you eat for the rest of the day. Now let’s look at the list:

1. Avocados

This luscious fruit is one of the foods of vegetable origin that are highest in fat. It consists of about 67 percent monounsaturated fat, which helps to increase your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol and triglycerides. It’s an excellent source of fiber, and it’s low in carbohydrates, which makes it a must-have for people with diabetes. It’s rich in vitamins B, C, E and K, as well as potassium, magnesium and folic acid. Enjoy some delicious guacamole or add some avocado to your salads, breakfast toast, sandwiches and smoothies.

spinner image close up of a woman making guacamole with avocados and a bottle of olive oil and a jar of pepper to reap the health benefits of healthy fats that won't make you gain weight
Avocados and olive oil are high in monounsaturated fats.
repinanatoly / Getty Images

2. Salmon

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is considered a “superfish.” Why? The polyunsaturated fats in salmon prevent the blood clotting that can cause heart attacks, and they may also protect you from irregular heartbeat, which can cause sudden death. Salmon is a source of healthy animal protein and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Other types of fish with these properties include arctic char, mackerel and anchovies. You can make a delicious baked salmon with a side salad.

3. Chia seeds

Studies show that regularly consuming omega-3 fatty acids is key to maintaining a healthy brain, and chia seeds can help with that. They’re considered superfoods because they’re rich in omega-3s and are a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. They are associated with a reduced appetite, lower cholesterol and better gut health. You can add chia seeds to oatmeal, smoothies, desserts or avocado toast. You can also make a delicious pudding with chia seeds and top it with fresh fruit and nuts.

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4. Almonds

Like other nuts, almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats. Studies have shown that eating nuts helps to reduce inflammation and lower insulin resistance. Almonds in particular have been linked to heart health, as they help lower total cholesterol and LDL and have antioxidant properties. But keep in mind that they’re high in calories, so moderation is key. A snack of 20 to 23 almonds provides 162 calories, 6 grams of protein and 3,408 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids.

5. Olive oil

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. It is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which ranks high on “best diets” lists. The health benefits of olive oil stem from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that people who consume more olive oil have a lower risk of developing heart disease, certain types of cancer and dementia. Olive oil is one of the oils recommended by the American Heart Association, along with canola, corn, peanut, safflower, soy, sunflower, avocado, grapeseed and sesame oil.

A word about bad fats — and bacon!

Let’s talk about bacon, since you’re probably wondering about it. The answer is not straightforward, and here’s why. More than half of the fats in bacon are unhealthy because they’re high in cholesterol, and studies have shown that eating these fats causes unwanted weight gain. Experts say saturated fats should not exceed 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. But bacon also has some good fat in the form of monounsaturated fat, which we’ve discussed in this article. So, you may ask, can we consider bacon a balanced food in terms of the fats it contributes to a diet?

Sadly, for bacon lovers, other factors must be considered. For example, bacon is a processed meat, and such meats have been linked to colorectal cancer. That’s why, if you feel you simply can’t live without bacon, I recommend that you have it only once in a while. 

In sum, eating fat won’t make you fat. Good fats are a source of energy and are our allies for physical and mental well-being. Include these five foods in your diet and start building healthy eating habits today. Remember that being healthy is about much more than just a number on the scale. So always check with your doctor, who can help you design a healthy lifestyle based on your needs.

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