Fight Cholesterol With Healthy Fats

When it comes to improving your cholesterol numbers, the popular line of thinking goes something like this: “Eat less of this. Don’t eat that. Never, ever even think of looking at those!” Now what if we told you that not all fats are created equally? In fact, eating more of certain everyday foods may help tip the numbers in your favor.

This list includes a few of what health and nutrition experts have be­gun referring to as good fats. They’re still fats, but they count as good because they fall into the category of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Studies have shown that these types of fats (found mainly in cold-water fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils) may help lower your odds of developing heart disease and other health conditions. They’re also sources of omega-3 fatty acids (part of the polyunsaturated fats family), which your body needs to build cells and control blood clotting. Omega-3s are also considered an important part of a heart healthy diet. Good sources of omega-3 include cold-water fish, such as salmon and tuna. [1,2,3,4, 14, 15]

Trans and saturated fats remain the problematic fats, and you’re wise to carefully watch your intake of these types.Your daily saturated fat intake should be less than 7% of your total calories per day, and your trans fat intake should be less than 1%, according to the American Heart Association [6]. For most people, that means consuming 15g or less of saturated fat each day. [6] But if you can take steps to think more about what you can eat (like guacamole made with heart-healthy avocado, trail mix with nuts and seeds, and a grilled salmon steak) [16] rather than what you should eat less of, suddenly a healthy eating plan is more than doable -- it’s delicious!

Keep in mind that all fats -- healthy or otherwise -- have a fair amount of calories (about 9 calories per gram), [1,4] so aim to keep your calories from fats to no more than 25 percent to 35% of your total calories (about 56 to 77g per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet) [1,2]. Here are some good sources of heart-healthy fats:

1.    Avocados

In addition to heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol, avocados include other heart-healthy compounds, such as soluble fiber, vitamin E, folate and potassium. [7,16]

2.    Flaxseed

Flaxseed not only has heart-healthy fiber, it also contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. [10,11,15]

3.    Fatty fish

Replacing foods high in saturated fat with those abundant in the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, herring and sardines may help support healthy cholesterol. [12,14,16]

4.    Olives and olive oil

Olives and their oil are abundant in beneficial monounsaturated fats. They also contain phytochemicals like polyphenols, associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  [8,9]

5.    Walnuts

Walnuts have the highest level of omega-3 fats of any nut. Just one small handful (about 14 walnut halves) supplies 2.6 g of omega-3 fats. [12,13]

Note: All fats -- healthy or otherwise -- contain a fair amount of calories (about 9 calories per gram), [1,4] so aim to keep your fat calories to no more than 25 percent to 35 percent of total calories. [1,2]


1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010

2. American Heart Association: Know Your Fats:

3. Fats & Oils: AHA Recommendation:

4. Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose

5. Mayo Clinic: Mediterranean Diet


American Heart Association Nutrition CommitteeLichtenstein AHAppel LJBrands MCarnethon MDaniels SFranch HAFranklin BKris-Etherton PHarris WSHoward BKaranja NLefevre MRudel LSacks FVan Horn LWinston MWylie-Rosett J.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee.

Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96. Epub 2006 Jun 19.

7. NYU Langone Medical Center: Avocado

8. Mayo Clinic: Olive Oil: What are the Health Benefits?

9. Castañer OCovas MIKhymenets ONyyssonen KKonstantinidou VZunft HFde la Torre RMuñoz-Aguayo DVila JFitó M.

Protection of LDL from oxidation by olive oil polyphenols is associated with a downregulation of CD40-ligand expression and its downstream products in vivo in humans.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 May;95(5):1238-44. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.029207. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

10. NCCAM: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil:

11. University of Maryland Medical Center: Flaxseed

12. University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 fatty acids

13. USDA Database Walnuts

14. Omega 3 fatty acids

15. American Heart Association Omega 3

16. American Heart Association: Knowing your fats
by the Publishers of Prevention