Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that fat is back. Not only does this once-feared macronutrient help keep you fuller longer than anything “fat-free” ever could, but it’s linked to everything from reduced belly fat to improved heart health to superior cognitive function—depending on the type.
And it’s not just the poly- and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts, that can be good for you; or the omega-3s found in fatty fish like sardines and salmon. Now, many doctors and nutritionists are saying that saturated fat has a place in a healthy diet, and that whole, unprocessed foods containing high amounts can actually improve cholesterol quality, cognitive function, and metabolism. It’s not just the fat itself that’s good for you, though—naturally fatty whole foods tend to be loaded with other health-promoting nutrients like vitamin K2 and choline that are hard to find elsewhere. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with Eat Clean to Get Lean, our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)
As registered dietitian nutritionist Katie Shields of the blog Honestly Nourished says, “Fat is where it’s at!” And her nutritionist colleagues agree. Here, 10 of their fatty, nutrient-packed favorites.
“Nutritionally, butter is actually a much healthier fat than most people realize, especially if it comes from grass-fed cows. The dairy fat from pastured cows contains higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin K2, which helps your body utilize calcium appropriately (i.e. deposit it into bones and remove it from arteries where it can do serious damage). Saturated fat is also a much safer fat to consume than the omega-6-rich polyunsaturated fats that come from industrial vegetable and seed oils. Plus, butter makes veggies taste amazing and helps us better absorb their nutrients—a win win!” –Laura Schoenfeld, MPH, RD
“Skip the egg white omelet and embrace the yolks. This is another highly misunderstood fat-rich food that’s an incredible source of vitamin A, choline, B vitamins, and selenium. Egg yolks from pastured chickens contain higher levels of vitamin D and carotenoids—antioxidants that give those yolks their deep orange color. Plus, the yolk is what gives eggs their awesome flavor. I often recommend eating 2 to 3 eggs per day for those who tolerate them. Look for Animal Welfare Approved eggs to make sure the chickens were treated humanely and given plenty of access to the outdoors.” –Laura Schoenfeld, MPH, RD
“High quality bacon is chock-full of a very important nutrient called choline, which has been shown to help fight off the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic mental impairments. Bacon also delivers a good dose of the various B vitamins, along with zinc. These nutrients aid in production of serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter in the brain, and can help reduce anxiety. The important priority is choosing a locally sourced, pasture-raised product free of nitrites, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Not only will this be less toxic, but it will also provide more nourishment. Combining your clean bacon with loads of fiber- and antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is a great way to promote health and satisfy your palate.” –Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE
“Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, is the fat from the cocoa bean that is often used in natural skincare or lip products. But it’s just as good for eating—it has a nice rich creaminess and works well in energy bars, smoothies, and blended into coffee with grass-fed butter as a unique spin on ‘Bulletproof coffee.’ As far as nutrition goes, cocoa butter provides antioxidants and omega-9 fatty acids, which aid in hormone balance and immune function support.” –Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE
“Avocado is great—it’s rich in omega-9 fats (oleic acid) and supports healthy skin and hormone balance while promoting digestive health as a rich form of fiber. It’s a great workout recovery food, too, providing electrolytes like potassium, and can aid in improved stress response and fertility, thanks to B vitamins like folate. I love eating them in the form of my bacon avocado fries!” –Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE
“I bite into a bar every day after lunch! My family has a history of heart disease, and research shows that certain types of chocolate can protect my precious ticker. It takes about 200 mg of flavonol antioxidants to improve blood flow and really promote heart health. A couple ways to hit 200 mg: 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder or 1.75 oz of dark chocolate that’s at least 70 to 80% cocoa. Just be sure to buy natural, non-alkalized cocoa powder, as the processing of alkalized cocoa significantly reduces flavanol content. And stick to dark chocolate bars that list cocoa solids as the first ingredient—not sugar! I usually add a tablespoon of cocoa powder to my morning oats then have 150 calories worth of dark chocolate after lunch.” –Jennifer McDaniel MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
“Nuts are my go-to travel snack when I need a healthy shot of sustainable energy. And while nuts are dense in calories, they are also dense in nutrients; just one serving (about 150–200 calories) can really keep me content for hours. They’re also packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and minerals and have been shown to reduce blood pressure, keep the heart healthy, and decrease the effects of metabolic syndrome. Oh, and we can’t forget the brain perks! Eating one serving of nuts a day, walnuts in particular, has been shown to play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s, boosting memory, and reducing depression.” –Jennifer McDaniel MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
“These superseeds are plant-based sources of omega-3s. While the best way to get omega-3s should be fish, these can still support anti-inflammatory efforts throughout the body. They also contain compounds called lignans, which may help lower cholesterol; and loads of heart-healthy fiber. I love to add a tablespoon of flaxseed, chia seeds, or both to my morning oatmeal or smoothies.” –Jennifer McDaniel MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
“With a mostly plant-based diet, I don’t get much saturated fat from meat. This leaves me room to enjoy full-fat dairy products like my favorite burrata cheese on tomatoes, full-fat yogurt as a snack with fruit, and half-and-half in my coffee. Plus, some recent studies have not found increased risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, or stroke with dairy fats. This may have to do with other nutrients within dairy that these fats interact with. For instance, dairy foods are rich in micronutrients such as vitamin D and potassium—two nutrients important for optimal heart health, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. The higher fat content also helps keep you full.” –Jennifer McDaniel MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
“My favorite plant-based fat is definitely coconut butter, which is a blend of coconut meat puree and coconut oil. It’s packed with the same nutrients of regular coconut oil, including medium-chain triglycerides, which we know are antimicrobial and protect our digestive tract from harmful bacteria overgrowth. The coconut meat plus oil creates a product with a creamier texture that makes it perfect for spreading on toast, stirring into oatmeal, or using in the dreamy crumb topping of my Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins. Plus, it’s super simple to make your own!” –Katie Shields, RDN