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Nutrition

5 High-Fat Foods That Are Incredibly Nutritious, According to a Registered Dietitian

Not all high-fat foods should be feared. These fatty foods can help improve heart health, boost brain functioning, and much more.

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Many of us still believe the nutrition lessons we learned in our younger years, where the prevailing dietary guidelines advised us to trim the fat from our diets. The recommendation to “choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol,” made it seem like dietary fat was the equivalent of the nutritional boogeyman. Low-fat options were glamorized and store shelves were lined with fat-free foods. Oh, the joys of the egg-white omelet. 

Fast forward to modern day: Fat is no longer as vilified as it was in the 1980s. While the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans still recommend restraint when it comes to saturated fat, they do promote several sources of fat as part of a healthy eating pattern. This updated advice is a departure from marking all higher-fat foods as “bad” picks that should be limited. Instead, it reminds us that fat is an important and essential part of our diet. 

Some dietary fat is important for many reasons, including protecting our organs, helping build important hormones, supporting cellular function, and providing the energy we need for all of our daily functions. We also need this macronutrient for the proper absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Plus, including high-fat foods in our diets also satiates the appetite and adds flavor to meals and snacks.

Here are five high-fat foods that are fatty in a good way.

1. Brazil Nuts

Roughly 90 percent of the calories in these giants of the nut world hail from fat. But you should know that a large part of those fatty calories come in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat – making Brazil nuts a strong source of heart-helping fats. 

What really stands out about Brazil nuts is their selenium content. Just a single nut provides more than a day’s worth of this mineral, according to nutrition analysis by the USDA. In our bodies, selenium is incorporated into what is known as “selenoproteins” that have a range of functions, including protecting cells from oxidative damage, managing thyroid metabolism and DNA synthesis. Research in the journal Nutrition suggests that getting enough selenium can help lower the risk of suffering depression; higher levels may also offer some protection from having a stroke. 

Just be a little cautious when chowing down on Brazil nuts. They’re so dense in this mineral that you don’t want to go overboard on them for the risk of selenium toxicity, which can have severe gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, among others. A good daily serving would be 2 to 3 whole nuts.

It’s worth noting that the Brazil nut industry can help reduce the amount of deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest. Unlike nuts such as almonds and walnuts, most of the world’s Brazil nuts are harvested almost exclusively from wild trees which grow throughout the Amazon Basin. And Brazil nut trees are more productive when living in healthy forests. 

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

Enjoy Brazil nuts as an out-of-hand snack or mix the chopped nuts into yogurt, salads, or oatmeal. Dip Brazil nuts into melted dark chocolate for a healthy treat, blend into smoothies or use them in place of pine nuts when making pesto.

2. Full-Fat Yogurt

It’s not necessary, or beneficial, to remove all the saturated fat from your diet. This is good news if you find the flavor and texture of higher-fat dairy – such as yogurt – more satisfying. 

In fact, opting for full-fat yogurt may be beneficial. Research published in PLOS Medicine has shown that those with higher intakes of dairy fat, measured by levels of certain fatty acids in the blood, had a surprisingly lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with low intakes. Although the investigators concluded more research is needed to confirm the findings, the results seem to suggest you may not need to rely on low-fat or fat-free dairy alone if you want to stay heart-healthy. This is echoed by findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which discovered that as long as dairy fat is consumed as part of a whole foods based diet, it may not have detrimental impacts on blood lipids and blood pressure numbers. 

There is a chance that different types of saturated fat from different sources (for instance, red meat versus yogurt) have a varying impact on heart health or that the nutrition matrix in dairy which includes essential amino acids, calcium, potassium and vitamin B12 helps offset any potential detrimental impact of its saturated fat. And more research is needed to determine if some high-fat dairy is more beneficial than others, say fermented yogurt rather than butter. You can count on yogurt to be a reliable source of probiotics that will help fertilize your gut with beneficial microorganisms to aid with digestive and immune health.  

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

A bowl of plain, full-fat yogurt topped with berries is a healthy snack or breakfast option. Blend yogurt into smoothies or use it as a base for creamy dressings. Thick Greek or Skyr yogurt is a good stand-in for sour cream in recipes.

3. Mackerel

Perhaps the saying “holy, Mackerel” comes from the fact that this fish is an omega-3 fat powerhouse. While numbers vary based on the type of mackerel (and where and when it was caught), a 3-ounce serving has about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s way more than your average fish sticks. That makes this fish a food for longevity. 

As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, having higher levels of omega-3s in the blood, as a result of regularly including oily fish in the diet, increases life expectancy by almost five years. And consuming 2 to 3 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids from food sources was linked to reductions in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The anti-inflammatory powers of the omega-3s in fatty fish might be a catalyst behind their healing effects by helping limit the risk for life-shortening conditions like heart disease and cancer. 

You can get a general idea of the fat content of most fish species by looking at the color of the flesh. The leanest species such as tilapia and flounder have a white or lighter color, and fattier fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring usually have a much darker hue to their flesh.

Oh, and omega-3s aren’t the only reason to eat mackerel. It’s also high in protein, selenium, niacin, vitamin B12, and hard-to-get vitamin D. 

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

You can prepare richly-flavored fillets of mackerel like other fish such as salmon. Convenient smoked mackerel can be used in sandwiches, salads, frittatas and pasta dishes – and likewise for canned mackerel. 

4. Avocado Oil

Though not as well known as olive oil, avocado oil, which is made by pressing the oil from the pulp of the fruit, is just as versatile and delicious. Plus, it’s a standout source of oleic acid – about 70% of the calories in the oil hail from this type of omega-9 fatty acid. (Only 12% of the fat calories come from saturated fat.) The FDA has determined that there’s enough evidence to support a qualified health claim that consuming oleic acid in edible oils, such as avocado oil, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Oleic acid, also found abundantly in olive oil, is thought to be one component of the well-researched Mediterranean Diet that makes it exceptionally heart-healthy. 

Because the total amount of omega-6 in avocado is relatively small, there’s less worry that using the oil will greatly increase the intake of this type of fat that can drive up inflammation when the consumption of omega-3 fats doesn’t keep pace. 

One preliminary study found adding avocado oil to a salad significantly increased the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoid antioxidants, including the beta-carotene and lycopene found in colorful veggies like carrots and tomatoes. Therefore, adding avocado oil to a salad dressing may help your body absorb more health-promoting antioxidants. 

Fortunately, avocado oil itself can be considered a source of several antioxidants including lutein, a fat-soluble carotenoid compound linked to improving eye health.  A diet rich in antioxidants helps fend off free radicals. 

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

There are two main types of avocado oil: so-called virgin or extra-virgin and refined. Virgin avocado oil, like olive oil, is made from the first pressing of the avocados and maintains more of the fruit’s flavor as well as the antioxidant compounds. Use this oil as you would olive oil in dressings, dips, gazpacho and sauces like pestos. 

Refined avocado oil is made by filtering the virgin oil to remove small particles of pulp and other impurities. This process also dulls the color and flavor. This version of the oil has a higher smoke point making it an excellent cooking and baking oil.

5. Sunflower Seed Butter

Made by grinding up the seeds of its namesake plant, sunflower butter has a consistency and flavor remarkably similar to good-old peanut butter. On top of providing up to 7 grams of plant-based protein in a 2 tablespoon serving (which is on par with peanut butter), sunflower butter is a good source of unsaturated fats – 6.5 grams in each tablespoon. 

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed simply replacing about 10% of the calories in our diets that come from saturated fat with calories from unsaturated fat can improve markers associated with better heart functioning. Other nutritional highlights include significant amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E, bone-helping phosphorus, and magnesium, an often under-consumed micronutrient which the National Institutes of Health says is required for roughly 300 enzymes in our bodies to perform biochemical reactions including blood sugar regulation, nerve function, and protein synthesis. 

If you’re concerned about rising food prices – and who isn’t? – sunflower butter tends to be a more economical choice than other nut butters. And it’s an allergy-friendly option for those who can’t tolerate peanuts or tree nuts. 

As with Skippy, added sugars can sneak their way into jars of sunflower butter. If you’re watching your sugar intake, select options that don’t include any added sweeteners like honey or cane sugar in the ingredient list.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

You can slather creamy sunflower butter on your morning toast, or try using it in smoothies, dressings, and homemade energy foods like bars and balls for some extra healthy fat. Also, consider stirring it into oatmeal and spreading it over apple slices. You can even use the seed butter as an ingredient to thicken and add richness to savory pureed soups, like butternut squash or cauliflower.

Featured recipe: Super-Easy Smoky Sunflower Dip