Healthy fats: it’s a difficult concept for many people to grasp. We’ve been told for decades that any fat in our diet is bad, and will make us gain weight — hence the proliferation of low-fat, reduced fat, and fat-free foods in the supermarket.

And yet, even as we consume our low-fat diets, the obesity rate in America continues to rise. More than two-thirds of adults in the US are considered to be overweight, with one-third of these falling into the obese category.

Part of the problem lies in the the ingredients in those low-fat, fat-free products. When fat is removed, so is a lot of the flavor. To make up for this, food manufacturers add more sugar. And it’s sugar — including refined carbohydrates like those found in bread and pasta — that make us pack on the pounds.

If you’re still avoiding dietary fat, it’s time to rethink it. Studies have shown that a low-carb, high-fat diet can actually promote weight loss. Plus, dietary fat is important for a number of functions throughout the body. Omega-3 fatty acids — like those found in salmon, flax seed, and walnuts — can help prevent heart disease and stroke, reduce blood pressure, and lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Fats also help build cell membranes, aid in muscle movement and blood clotting, and help control inflammation in the body.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, prevent disease, or increase your energy, try adding more of these health-boosting fats into your diet:

  1. Olive oil is rich in a type of fat known as monounsaturated fat. Olive oil is a major component in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to help protect against diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Olive oil has been shown to help with weight loss, promote brain health, help fight depression, improve skin health, and balance hormones. While it’s great for drizzling onto foods or using in salad dressings, olive oil is not recommended for cooking at high heat. Olive oil has a low smoke point, which is the temperature at which oils start to break down and the beneficial compounds degrade. For cooking, use oils with a higher smoke point, like coconut oil, avocado oil, almond oil, or grapeseed oil.
  2. Avocados are another good source of monounsaturated fats, which help raise levels of good HDL cholesterol while lowering harmful LDL cholesterol. They’re also high in vitamin E, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. If you’re lactose intolerant or otherwise don’t eat dairy, the creamy texture of avocado makes a great substitute for cheese on sandwiches. It can also easily be added to salads, smoothies, or just about anything else you’re cooking up.
  3. Butter has gotten a bad reputation due to its saturated fat content, but real butter — not margarine or other imitation spreads — is coming back into popularity as new research indicates that eating less saturated fat doesn’t actually lower the risk of heart disease. In fact, real butter may have several health benefits. It’s rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K, and has actually been associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease.
  4. Coconut oil has numerous health benefits: it provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects, it’s been shown to prevent bone loss and protect liver health, and it contains medium-chain fatty acids that may improve brain function, protect against cancer, balance blood sugar levels, and promote weight loss. Coconut oil can be used for cooking and baking, added to coffee as an alternative to creamer, added to smoothies, used for a topping on toast or baked potatoes — its uses are nearly endless! It can even be used as a skin moisturizer, makeup remover, lip balm, and natural mouthwash.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They’re known as “essential” fats because they’re necessary for normal body function, but the body can’t produce them itself. Omega-3s must come from the diet and from supplements. Foods high in omega-3s include salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, and certain leafy vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

It’s important to keep levels of omega-3 fats balanced with omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6s are another type of essential fat found in vegetable oils such as soybean oil. Because soybean oil is commonly used in fast foods and snack foods such as cookies, crackers, and sweets, most people have plenty of omega-6s in their diet, but not enough omega-3s. This imbalance has been linked to numerous health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Individuals with a certain genetic variant in the FADS1 gene may have decreased levels of arachidonic acid (an omega-6 acid) as well as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, a long-chain omega-3 acid). Those individuals are advised to increase their intake of omega-3s, as well as healthy sources of omega-6s, such as poultry and eggs.

Genetic testing can help you determine how your body responds to different nutrients — including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats — as well as what type of diet works best for your individual genetic makeup. Request a free consultation with a Vivaliti DNA health coach today to learn how your personalized genetic blueprint can help you lose weight and make smarter choices about your health and wellness every day!