These nine foods are excellent sources of healthy plant-based fats. Keep them on hand so you always have heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in your plant-based kitchen!
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Wondering which plant foods are good sources of healthy fat? Then you’re in the right place!
Today we’re going to explore nine plant foods that are rich in heart-healthy fats and how you can easily incorporate them into your diet.
But before we get to the good stuff, let’s have a brief conversation about fat in general so you know which fats are good and which fats are bad.
Which Types of Fat are the Healthiest?
There are four main types of dietary fats: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats and trans fats are the bad fats. They are responsible for undesirable health consequences such as high cholesterol, clogged arteries, heart attack, and stroke. (Source)
Saturated fats are found in greatest quantities in animal foods such as meat and dairy products while trans fats are mostly found in processed goods such as snacks, frozen dinners, and fried foods.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, are the good fats. They’re absolutely essential for our bodies to function properly, so it’s important that we regularly consume these good fats.
- Lower the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Lower bad LDL cholesterol while raising good HDL cholesterol
- Protect against memory loss and dementia
- Ease joint pain and other inflammatory conditions
- Help our bodies absorb important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, & K
- Assist in building cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves
As you can see, we definitely need good fat in our diet! But where do you get these good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats?
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in plants and some fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
How to get more good fat in your diet
Our goal is to consume foods that have more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while reducing the foods that have more saturated and trans fats.
- High-fat plant foods have more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than saturated fats (coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are the exception)
- Animal foods have more saturated fats than monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats (fatty fish are the exception)
- Processed foods are the primary source of trans fats
With that in mind, you’ll want to avoid or limit the foods that contribute bad fats (i.e. animal foods and processed foods) while consuming more of the foods that contribute good fats (i.e. the plant foods in this list).
Alright, now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s talk about those nine healthy plant-based fats!
9 Healthy Plant-Based Fats
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or if you follow a whole food, plant-based diet, then you’ll want to know which plant foods are high in fat so you can get your good fats from plant sources.
These nine plant foods are good sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:
- Nut butter
- Seed butter
- Cacao nibs
Let’s talk about each one in more detail.
Nuts are a fantastic source of good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. One ounce of walnuts has a whopping 13.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat!
Some other healthy nuts include almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, etc.
You can snack on them plain, add them to a salad, make your own homemade trail mix, or even toss them in a smoothie.
I like to keep a variety of nuts stored in glass mason jars. They look pretty, and that visual appeal alone usually entices me to eat more of them.
2. Nut Butter
You can also get healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from nut butter. Just two tablespoons of peanut butter has 7.6 grams of monounsaturated fat and 4.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat!
There are several kinds of nut butters lining grocery store shelves these days, so try a few of them to see which ones you like best. You can try almond butter or cashew butter in addition to traditional peanut butter.
When selecting nut butter, the key is to look for ones that contain minimal ingredients. If you can find ones that only contain nuts, then that’s even better!
Alternatively, you can make your own nut butter by toasting nuts in the oven and then adding them to a food processor. This homemade almond butter recipe from Dani Spies looks absolutely delicious!
Seeds are a big deal in the health world, especially the small-but-mighty ones like flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.
Flax seeds especially are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (1597 mg in 1 tablespoon!), but since our bodies can’t actually break down whole flax seeds, it’s best to buy ground flaxseed unless you have a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix) that can break down whole flax seeds for you.
Smaller seeds such as flax seeds and hemp seeds are great added to smoothies, and larger seeds like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds make an excellent salad topper or trail mix. You can even make chia pudding out of chia seeds for a healthy breakfast idea, or make a chia seed drink for a fun snack.
4. Seed Butter
Have you ever tried sunflower seed butter? It’s so delicious!
Seed butter is another easy option for getting plenty of healthy fats in your diet. It has 5 grams of polyunsaturated fat in every tablespoon! You can spread it on toast or bread, add it to smoothies, or use it as a dip for sliced fruit.
Avocados, unlike other fruits, are very high in fat. Lucky for us, they’re loaded with good monounsaturated fat! A whopping 19.7 grams per avocado, actually.
You can easily add more avocado to your diet by topping your salad with cubed avocado, spreading mashed avocado on your toast or sandwich, creating an easy guacamole from mashed avocado and a spoonful of salsa, or even making creamy avocado fudgesicles!
The possibilities are endless, really.
6. Cacao Nibs
But don’t be fooled:
Cacao nibs DO NOT taste like a Hershey bar. Nope, we’re talking pure, unsweetened chocolate bits that are actually quite bitter.
The bright side is that cacao nibs are crunchy and lend a nice flavor when you add them to already-sweetened foods like smoothies, granola, or trail mix.
Also, you pronounce “cacao” like this: kuh-COW.
Olives are another source of healthy monounsaturated fats, featuring 3.2 grams of monounsaturated fat per ounce. They’re great on salads or as a salty snack, but keep in mind that jarred olives are notorious for having a high sodium content.
Edamame, or soybeans, are a great source of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. For every cup you eat, you get 3.3 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 2 grams of monounsaturated fat.
You’ll often see boiled or steamed edamame served in Asian restaurants, but you can also buy frozen edamame (shelled or unshelled) in the frozen section of your grocery store.
I’ve had edamame in soup, succotash, fried rice, and in a stir fry. Delish every time!
As you might imagine, tofu (which is made from soybeans) is also a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. You get 2.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat in a serving of tofu, which is usually about 1/5 of a block.
And the best part is that tofu is a super versatile ingredient that you can use to make all sorts of dishes!
I prefer using extra firm tofu since it has a meatier texture than other tofu varieties, but you can experiment with the other densities to see which one you like best.
You can use cubed tofu in stir fry dishes and fried rice. You can also make tofu nuggets or fingers. My personal favorite use for tofu, though, is when I make a breakfast tofu scramble. Now THAT’S a hearty breakfast!
Psst… If you make tofu regularly, you’ll want to get a tofu press. Total. Game. Changer.
Is Oil a Healthy Fat?
You might be wondering if oil is a healthy source of good fat since it’s essentially pure fat.
While plant oils (think olive oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, etc.) do contain good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, they aren’t the ideal way for you to get these necessary fats.
See, many notable plant-based doctors suggest avoiding refined oils as much as possible since oils are highly processed and have some adverse health effects when you consume them. All oils, even “good” ones like olive oil, impair endothelial function to various degrees. (Source)
Beyond that, oils are nutritionally deficient. While you do get omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from oil, refined oils are stripped of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemical compounds that you’d normally get by eating the whole food (i.e. eating the olive instead of the olive oil, or eating the walnut instead of the walnut oil). (Source)
Also, oil is calorically dense. Fat supplies more than twice as many calories per gram when compared to carbohydrates and proteins. Carbohydrates and proteins each have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. (Source)
Since oil is pure fat, even a small amount of it adds a significant amount of calories. In fact, you get about 120-130 calories for every tablespoon of oil you consume. (Source) That’s a lot of calories for a nutritionally-deficient food substance that does nothing to make you feel full.
These are all good reasons to avoid added oil as much as possible, and swapping out refined oils in favor of the whole plant food will allow you to get plenty of good fats along with other important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Healthy Fats and Weight Loss
I do want to mention one more tip in case you’re trying to lose weight.
While your body does need healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to function properly, it’s important to consume these healthy plant-based fats in moderation if your primary goal is to lose weight.
Remember that fat is the most concentrated source of calories. That means that these whole food sources of good fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds, are more calorically-dense than other foods that don’t have as much fat in them, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
For example, you’ll consume more calories when you eat a handful of nuts than when you eat a handful of berries because the nuts have more fat in them than the berries.
You can still have those good sources of good fats, but it’s important to limit your intake so you don’t consume excess calories.
Final Thoughts on Plant-Based Fats
So now you know which foods are good sources of healthy plant-based fats!
Nuts, nut butter, seeds, seed butter, avocados, cacao nibs, olives, edamame, and tofu are all excellent sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and you can easily incorporate them into your diet by trying new recipes.
I personally like to have all of these foods on hand so I have a variety of healthy fats to choose from when I prepare plant-based meals and snacks. However, I am conscientious of the fact that these foods are more calorically-dense than other plant foods.
For that reason, I try to limit my intake of these high-fat foods and instead make foods that are lower in calorie density (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) the star at mealtime. This lets me get healthy fats without consuming excess calories.
Other Plant-Based Articles You May Enjoy
- The Complete Guide to Dietary Fats (the simple version!)
- 15 Must-Have Kitchen Items Every Plant-Based Kitchen Needs
- Plant-Based Shopping List: What to Buy When You Follow a Plant-based Diet
- The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen 2019 (Free Printable List!)
- Meal Planning Made Simple (plus a free printable!)
What about you? What are your favorite sources of healthy plant-based fats? Let me know in the comments!
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