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The 10 Healthiest Fats You Can Eat (And Which Ones To Avoid)

Sanjana Gupta
Author: Expert reviewer:
May 22, 2023
Sanjana Gupta
By Sanjana Gupta
mbg Contributor
Sanjana Gupta has been a health writer and editor since 2014. She has a master's degree in digital journalism from New York University. She also holds a master's degree in management from the University of Mumbai.
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Expert review by
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Registered Dietitian
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, chef, and writer with a love of science and passion for helping people create life-long healthy habits. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, a Grand Diplôme in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute, and master's degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University.
May 22, 2023
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Fats often get a bad rap. However, fat is actually an essential nutrient that plays several important roles in the body. The trick is to pack natural, nutritious sources of fat onto your plate.

To help out, we asked nutritionists what makes fats healthy or unhealthy and which healthy fats you should include in your diet.

Why fat is important

Fat is a macronutrient, along with carbs and protein, which means our bodies require it in large quantities (as compared to micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which our bodies require in small quantities).

Fat has been vilified1 for decades, with several diets promoting fat-free or low-fat eating patterns. However, this essential nutrient plays several important roles in the body, says Crystal Scott, R.D., a nutritionist who specializes in weight management. Moreover, fat also adds great flavor to food and helps us feel full, says Jen Scheinman, M.S., RDN, a functional nutrition coach.

Fortunately, awareness of the importance of fat has been growing, as evidenced by the increasing popularity of diets such as the high-fat keto diet. Here are some of the reasons dietary fat is so important, according to Scott:


It provides energy.

Fat is a concentrated source of energy, providing more than double the calories per gram compared to carbohydrates or proteins. It serves as a stored form of energy2 that can be drawn upon when needed.


It facilitates vitamin absorption.

Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K3) require fat for proper absorption in the body. Consuming some fat with each meal that contains these vitamins helps ensure that they are properly utilized.


It maintains cell structure.

Fats are an essential component of cell membranes4 and contribute to the structure and function of cells all over the body.


It enables hormone production.

Some hormones, including certain adrenal hormones as well as some sex hormones, are synthesized from cholesterol, which is a type of fat.


Body fat offers insulation and protection.

Fat provides insulation and padding within the body, which protects organs and helps maintain body temperature. Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT), also helps produce body heat via thermogenesis5.

How much fat to eat

Dietary guidelines generally recommend that you get 20% to 35% of your total calorie intake6 from fats. For someone following a 2,000-calorie diet, for example, that could work out to 400 to 700 calories from fat per day (around 45 to 75 grams).

However, it's important to understand that all fats are not created equal. There are, in fact, hundreds of different kinds of fatty acids, each with their unique properties. They have been grouped into a few main buckets (monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, etc.) for the sake of our convenience and understanding. 


Most people will want to eat roughly 45 to 75 grams of fat per day—ideally from healthy sources of fat.

What makes a fat healthy?

So, what makes a fat healthy, and how you can distinguish between healthy fats and unhealthy fats?

"Healthy fats tend to be natural and have chemical structures that are easy for the body to break down and utilize for energy. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats," says Uma Naidoo, M.D., a nutritional psychiatrist and the author of This Is Your Brain on Food.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs for short) are found in foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish, says Scheinman. They can promote heart health7, lower cholesterol levels8, and reduce inflammation9, Scheinman adds.

On the other hand, Naidoo explains that an unhealthy fat is one that is the result of food processing. Processing alters the structures of natural fats in ways that make them harder for the body to use.

Processed fats are often found in the form of trans fats, hydrogenated fats and oils, and processed seed oils, says Naidoo. These fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels10, increase the risk of heart disease11, and have other negative health effects, says Scott.


Healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are easier for the body to break down compared to saturated or trans fats. These healthy fats have a positive effect on heart health and cholesterol levels.

Omega-3 versus omega-6 fatty acids

If you've heard of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, you may wonder what the difference between them is and which kind is healthy.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats that have anti-inflammatory properties12; whereas, omega-6s in high proportions can be inflammatory13, says Naidoo.

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain development and function14, support heart health15, and may help with conditions like depression16, ADHD17, and age-related cognitive decline18, says Scheinman.

"Prior to the industrial revolution, humans consumed a diet with an approximately 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats; however, in today's food climate the average person consumes roughly a 16:1 ratio19 of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, which is one of the drivers of chronic inflammation and many metabolic diseases," Naidoo explains.

"Therefore, it is especially important to be consuming plenty of omega-3s to bring this ratio back down and balance out13 the inflammatory effects of excess omega-6," Naidoo adds.


While both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, we generally consume way more omega-6 fatty acids due to the way today's food is processed and prepared. It's important to get enough omega-3s in our diets to keep our bodies in balance.

Healthy fats list

Now that you understand the importance of fat, here are some natural, nutritious sources of healthy fats (plant and animal) that you can add to your diet. 

FoodFat per serving
Salmon9 grams
Avocado15 grams
Nuts14 grams
Seeds16 grams
Olive oil13 grams
Eggs5 grams
Full-fat yogurt8 grams
Beans2 grams
Ghee15 grams
Dark chocolate12 grams

Fatty fish

Fatty fish are a great source of heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the American Heart Association20 recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week for better heart health. Fatty fish, like salmon, are also a good source of protein21 and have a negligible carb content.

If you want to add more fish to your diet, try making these fish tacos or salmon cakes. From an environmental perspective, smaller-sized "SMASH" fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and sardines) are less likely to contain harmful toxins and are more sustainable.



Unlike most fruits that primarily contain carbs and don't have much fat content, avocados22 are packed with healthy fats. Avocados also contain vitamin E and antioxidants23 that improve brain health and protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Scott recommends adding avocado to salads or sandwiches or using it as a replacement for spreads like butter or mayonnaise. Avocado oil is also a healthy choice for high-heat cooking.



Nuts are packed with healthy fats that boost heart health. A 2017 study24 found that eating 1 ounce of nuts at least five times a week is linked to a 20% lower risk of heart disease.

You can munch on a handful of nuts when you get peckish or add them to your yogurt, cereal, or smoothies to make them more filling and nutritious. If you like nut butter, you can pair it with slices of celery or apple as a healthy dip.



Like nuts, seeds also pack a powerful punch when it comes to protein and healthy fats. Seeds contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats25 that can help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

There are many different types of seeds, and they can be used in several different ways. For instance, you can add ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to your smoothies. Or, you can sprinkle a mix of pumpkin and sunflower seeds over your soups and salads. Chia seed pudding also makes for a great breakfast option.


Olive oil

Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is considered to be one of the healthiest diets in the world26. Olive oil contains oleic acid27, which is a fatty acid with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. 

You can use olive oil in homemade salad dressings, pesto sauce, and hummus, or drizzle it over roasted vegetables. Opt for cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) for the highest nutrient and antioxidant content.



Eggs, and egg yolks in particular, once had a bad rap28 for their cholesterol content. However, more recent research has shown that dietary cholesterol isn't a significant factor for heart disease risk29. Furthermore, eggs are a nutrient-dense food30 that offer several vitamins and minerals, in addition to protein and healthy fats. 

Eggs are extremely versatile and easy to cook. They can be eaten at just about any time of the day. For example, you could eat a scrambled egg for breakfast, a vegetable egg muffin for lunch, and shakshuka for dinner. You can even add eggs to your oatmeal for a richer, creamy texture.



Like other dairy products, yogurt also contains fats, protein, and calcium. It also has the added bonus of probiotics31, healthy bacteria that improve immunity and gut health.

You can eat yogurt as is or add it to smoothies. Top it with berries and nuts for an extra boost of flavor and nutrition. When you shop for yogurt at the grocery store, be sure to opt for full-fat yogurt and avoid fat-free or low-fat varieties.



Beans are a great addition to your diet, particularly if you're vegan or vegetarian and looking for more food groups to increase your protein intake. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, beans also offer protein and fiber32.

There are many types of beans, and you can cook them in several ways. For example, you can add chickpeas or kidney beans to salads and use cannellini beans in soups. Black beans make for a healthy taco filling, and roasted lima beans make a nice snack.



Ghee is a form of clarified butter that has been used in Ayurvedic recipes and remedies for centuries. It is made by heating butter and getting rid of any excess water, in order to create a more concentrated fat that contains fat-soluble vitamins33 A, E, and K, Ginger Hultin, M.S., RDN, previously told mindbodygreen.

Ghee has a high smoke point of 485 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a good cooking medium. When you buy ghee, try to opt for organic, grass-fed varieties as far as possible.


Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains a type of saturated fat called stearic acid34 that does not appear to impact cholesterol levels the same way that fat from meat does, says Scheinman. Furthermore, she says it's full of other nutrients35 like magnesium as well as healthy polyphenols.

You can eat a piece of dark chocolate after lunch to curb sugar cravings, or you can shave it over your yogurt or chia seed pudding. Scheinman recommends opting for varieties that have over 70% cacao.

Unhealthy fats to avoid

Trans fats and hydrogenated oils are unhealthy fats you should avoid.

Trans fats are formed via a manufacturing process that involves adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, in order to transform it from a liquid to a solid at room temperature.

Margarine and shortening are examples of trans fats. They are known as partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). Trans fats used to be found in many fried foods, baked goods, packaged snacks, and store-bought salad dressings, says Naidoo. These fats have been shown to pose a serious risk to heart health36

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans food manufacturers from adding trans fats to foods37 in the United States, although some products still contain traces of them. The FDA estimates that removing PHOs from processed foods can potentially prevent thousands of deaths and heart attacks per year.

In addition to trans fats, other highly processed fats such as vegetable and seed oils are also unhealthy, especially in high amounts, says Scheinman. "There's concern that the highly processed fats found in soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil can increase inflammation, especially in the typical American diet where we eat a lot of these fats and very little of the healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids," she explains. 

Naidoo recommends avoiding deep-fried foods such as French fries since fast food restaurants usually use these cheaper oils that are inflammation-producing.


Harmful trans fats are no longer as common in the average diet. However, other unhealthy fats can still be found in vegetable and seed oils. Limit your intake of fried and highly processed foods to avoid these.

What about saturated fats?

Saturated fats often get grouped in with trans fats, but they're not the same thing. Saturated fats are found in animal products like meats and dairy, as well as some tropical plant foods like coconut, says Naidoo.

While it was once believed that saturated fats should be strictly limited, recent research38 suggests that they may not be as harmful as previously thought, Scott explains.

"The current dietary guidelines recommend that you keep saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories. If you have heart disease, high cholesterol, or are at high risk of developing heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fats to 5% to 6% of your daily calories39," says Scheinman.

When it comes to evaluating how healthy a food is, it's also important to consider the quality of nutrition the food offers rather than just the leanness, Abby K. Cannon, J.D., R.D., CDN, previously pointed out to mindbodygreen. If a food is rich in vitamins and minerals and also contains some saturated fat (such as eggs, for example), it may be a better option than a food that has no fat but doesn't provide much nutritional value either.

As with all foods, Naidoo recommends eating saturated fat in moderation and as part of a healthy balanced diet that is also rich in fruits and vegetables.


Found in products with meat, dairy, and coconuts, saturated fat can be a part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation.


What are the healthiest fats to eat?

The healthiest sources of fat offer omega-3 acids, preferably accompanied by other nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs, and fatty fish are some of the healthiest sources of fat you can add to your diet. 

What are good fats for weight loss?

Foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, eggs, fatty fish, olive oil, and yogurt offer healthy fats and can be part of a balanced diet that helps you lose weight. Since fats are calorie-dense foods, it's important to be mindful of your portion sizes. 

What are examples of bad fats?

Hydrogenated seed and vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, and foods containing trans fats are some examples of unhealthy fats you should avoid.

The takeaway

If you're trying to eat better, it's worthwhile to add healthy fats to your diet and eliminate unhealthy fats as much as possible. Nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, eggs, fatty fish, olive oil, and yogurt are all great sources of healthy fats that will leave you feeling satisfied.

Sanjana Gupta author page.
Sanjana Gupta

Sanjana Gupta has been a health writer and editor since 2014. She has written extensively for platforms like Insider,, and Verywell Mind. Her work spans various health-related topics, including nutrition, fitness, mental health, medical conditions, and wellness.

Sanjana has a master's degree in digital journalism from New York University. She also holds a master's degree in management from the University of Mumbai.

She balances her love for chocolate with a penchant for fun workouts like aerial yoga and kickboxing.

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