The word fats can easily throw one into a tailspin. We know that fatty foods are finger-wagging bad for us. But that’s only part of the story, explains Santa Rosa, CA-based Isaac Eliaz, MD, a physician in private practice there.

Unhealthy Fats

For starters, most fats in the typical Western diet (high in processed foods, red meat, and dairy) can be unhealthy when excessively consumed. Industrial trans fats and saturated fats up LDL (bad) cholesterol, fuel chronic inflammation, and form deposits on artery walls, thereby increasing heart-disease risk. Trans fats are often found in processed foods, while saturated fats are found in animal products (such as whole fat dairy and butter) and meat products (such as bacon and red meat).

Healthy Fats

There are also healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (which include essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6) lower inflammation, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and blood pressure, says Dr. Eliaz, while boosting circulation. Healthy fats are found in foods such as nuts, seeds, and fish.

Are Healthy Fats A New Idea?

No, healthy fats (such as olive oil) have been used therapeutically for thousands of years, says Dr. Eliaz. Particularly in Eastern medical traditions, healthy oils–often infused with other therapeutic herbs and compounds—are imperative to helping restore health.

Healthy Fat Examples:

  • Avocados
  • Chia Seeds
  • Coconut Oil (comprised of saturated fat, but a much healthier saturated fat known as MCFA)
  • Flax Seeds and Oil
  • Cold Water Fish (wild salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring)
  • Hemp Seeds and Oil
  • Olives and Olive Oil (EVOO is the most nutrient-packed)
  • Nuts (especially almonds and walnuts) and Seeds (especially pumpkin)

How Much Healthy Fat Should You Get?

This amount varies according to the individual, but typically, says Dr. Eliaz, total fat intake should comprise about 25 percent of your daily calories. Aim to skip trans fats entirely, says Dr. Eliaz, limit saturated fats, and fulfill most of your fat intake with healthy fats.

How Do You Use Healthy Fats?

Avocado: Whip up guacamole infused with fresh veggies; add to salads or sandwiches.

Healthy Oils: Use in salad dressings and stir-fry; add to dipping sauces or soups; drizzle on cooked foods. Note: Coconut oil remains stable at high temperatures, making it great for cooking.

Fish: Grill or bake with lemon juice and ginger; add to stews and whole-wheat pastas.

Seeds: Toss into smoothies and salads.

Nuts: Snack on a bag with almonds or walnuts; add to yogurt and salads.

You can eat healthy fats even when you have high cholesterol or blood pressure, says Dr. Eliaz. They help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and can help improve cardiovascular markers.

What’s Your trick to seamlessly folding healthy fats into your diet?