Unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats because they improve cholesterol, are associated with lower inflammation (a risk factor for heart disease), and are associated with overall lower risk of developing heart disease. Unsaturated fats are found primarily in plant-based foods; and are generally liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Considered one of the healthiest fat sources in the diet, monounsaturated fats should make up the bulk of your daily fat intake. It is best to consume monounsaturated fats as a replacement for foods high in saturated and trans fat; you will also benefit from replacing some of the refined carbohydrates in your diet with monounsaturated fats. Good sources are olive oil, canula oil, avocados, olives, most nuts (excluding walnuts) and nut butters.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6. Both must be obtained from dietary sources because the body cannot manufacture them on it’s own. Research has shown that Omega-3s help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke. These benefits include lowering triglycerides, protecting against irregular heartbeats, decreasing risk of a heart attack, and lowering blood pressure. Good sources of Omega-3s come mainly from fish, but also from flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are especially good sources.
Omega-6 fatty acids also lower the risk for heart disease. Omega-6 can be found in vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, soybean, and corn oils. Although Omega-6 fats play an important role in health, research suggests we get too much Omega-6 at the expense of Omega-3, which can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammation. It’s best to try and curb your intake of Omega-6 (one easy way is to cut back on processed foods containing the above oils); and increase your intake of Omega-3, such as consuming walnuts and flaxseed on a regular basis, and including at least two meals from fatty fish each week.