Far from being the disease-promoting demons that saturated and trans fats are, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good for you. "Good" fats are essential for proper nerve activity, vitamin absorption, immune system function and healthy cells. Foods generally contain a mixture of fats, but selecting foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids) instead of trans and saturated fats helps lower your risk of many diseases. “Good” fats lower “bad” cholesterol in the blood, decreasing risk of heart attack. Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation and stimulate metabolism, and monounsaturated fats lower the risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Cold Water Fish
Cold water fish are high in monounsaturated and omega-3 fats, making them an excellent source of two hard-to-find “good fats.” Each serving of these fatty fish packs thousands of milligrams of omega-3. The most common examples are salmon , mackerel, trout and tuna. Other fish rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 include sardines, anchovies, char, black cod, halibut, mussels and oysters. For those who don’t enjoy the taste of fish, fish oil supplements offer a ton of good fats. Cod liver oil derives almost a quarter of its fat calories from monounsaturated fats and another 23 percent from polyunsaturated fats. Over 95 percent of the polyunsaturated fats in fish oil supplements come from heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Plant-based oils also offer a healthy fat alternative to their saturated and hydrogenated animal- and laboratory-derived counterparts. Hemp oil, which derives 80 percent of its fat composition from polyunsaturated fats has the highest ratio of “good fats” of any vegetable seed oil. Grape seed oil comes in behind hemp, comprised of 70 percent polyunsaturated fats. Flax seed oil delivers 58 percent of its fats from omega-3 fatty acids alone. Olive oil is an excellent delivery system for all the good fats, providing 73 and 11 percent of its fat composition from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats respectively, along with 1,644 mg omega-3 per cup. Canola oil offers a similar good-fat punch whose ratio falls slightly on the side of polyunsaturated fats. Canola oil delivers eight times the omega-3 per serving as olive oil, and doesn't degrade (become hydrogenated) at high cooking temperatures.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts (including peanuts) and seeds are an excellent source of good fats. Hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts all derive more than half of their fat calories from monounsaturated fats. Walnuts and chia seeds (the same ones used to grow fuzzy terracotta pets) are extremely rich in omega-3 fats. Sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds as well as Brazil nuts all offer a balance of both poly- and monounsaturated fats. The oils derived from all these nuts and seeds are similarly rich in “good” fats.
According to the American Heart Association, consuming unsaturated fats in place of the saturated type can help lower your risk of high blood cholesterol, which can contribute to atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke. It suggests that 25 to 35 percent of the calories you consume each day could come from fat, but the majority of these fats should be unsaturated.