With the right fat in your diet, you can actually improve your heart’s health.

Of course, the wrong fats can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

With all the information out there about fat, a lot of people try to avoid fat altogether. But we know that’s not the right approach. So what is it you need to know about fats and healthy fats?

Healthy fats can reduce your risk for heart disease and lower bad cholesterol.

How Do Healthy Fats Help?

Fat, healthy fat including triglycerides, cholesterol and essential fatty acids, works in multiple ways to keep us healthy.

Fats help by storing energy, insulating and protecting our organs and acting as messengers. They also help by starting chemical reactions that help control growth, the immune system, reproduction and parts of basic metabolism.

Fats also help store “fat-soluble” vitamins A, D, E and K in the liver and in fatty tissues. Fat is broken down during digestion and sent through the bloodstream where it can then be utilized as energy right away or get stored.

Because the body can store all fats if they’re consumed in excess, it’s important to consume even healthy fats in moderation.

What Fats Should You Be Eating?

It’s clear fat can do its damage to your health, so it’s important to understand what types of fats will actually help improve your health.

Monounsaturated Fats – Monounsaturated fats are fat molecules with one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and begin to turn solid when cooled.

This type of fat – when eaten in moderation – can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Like all types of fat, monounsaturated fats still contain nine calories per gram but also provide nutrients for cell development and maintenance.

Foods high in monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Avocadoes
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

Polyunsaturated Fats – Polyunsaturated fats are fats with more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and begin to solidify when cooled.

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels in the body and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in many ways.

Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans

How Much Healthy Fat Do You Need in Your Diet?

While the amount of healthy fat you need each day depends on the amount of calories you consume, the Institute of Medicine recommends adults get between 20 to 35 percent of their calories from fat.

The amount of calories you consume each day depends on your individual needs and activity level.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to get 90 percent of our fat content from healthy monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.

How Can You Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet?

Eating healthy fats may be out of the ordinary for some people, but a few changes in lifestyle and eating habits can help increase the amount of healthy fat you’re getting.

Eat fish – Try including fish – specifically salmon, mackerel, herring or trout – as part of one dinner each week. The polyunsaturated fat in fish will help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Change your cooking oil – Switch from using vegetable oil to olive oil in your cooking to increase the amount of monounsaturated fat you’re getting.

Snack on nuts – Instead of getting chips and candy to snack on, buy peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts or sunflower seeds to snack on. You’ll be able to easily increase the amount of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat you’re consuming.

Dress your own salad – Instead of calorie-laden dressings, use olive oil and vinegar for flavor to dress your salads.

As important as it is to add healthy fats to your diet, it is also important to eliminate bad fats from your diet. Bad fats raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol while increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Look to eliminate trans fat in your diet by limiting the amount of packaged foods, commercially baked foods, fried foods and pre-mixed products you’re eating.