At one time, food scientists and dietitians alike thought that lowering the overall fat content in a person’s diet would help prevent cardiovascular disease.
These days, we know that’s not really the case. It’s a little more complex than that.
Rather than eliminating fats altogether, it’s more important to know how to distinguish good fats from bad fats.
You should strive to add the right amount of essential healthy fats, while reducing your consumption of animal-based, saturated fats.
When eaten in excess, saturated fats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Saturated fats come mainly from animal products, such as red meat, pork, cheese, milk and butter.
These fats should account for less than 10% of your daily calories, or just 200 calories per day.
That’s only about 13 grams of fat, or roughly 3 tablespoons of butter for the whole day. Unfortunately, that’s the amount many people use in just one meal.
If you’re looking for a meal plan rich in healthy fats, look no further than the Mediterranean diet, which is largely plant-based. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but also offers seafood and lean meat consumption, with limits on red meat and dairy products.
Having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can offer a variety of health benefits, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol, less constipation, prevention of cancer, better oral health and higher fiber.
Fiber can help you feel full for a longer period, which can promote weight loss and provide other benefits. Many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet can even prevent risk of Parkinson’s disease and improve brain health.
The main sources of fat in the Mediterranean diet are plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, as well as a moderate amount healthy fat from seafood.
Examples of healthy fat sources in the Mediterranean diet are olive oil, avocado, flaxseed, walnuts, salmon, tahini, brazil nuts, almonds, tuna, chia seeds and canola oil.
Keep in mind that the Mediterranean diet limits processed and packaged foods.
Canned foods are acceptable, such as canned tuna in water, but be sure to check the sodium content on the nutrition label, because salt is usually a big ingredient in canned products.
A simple tip: Look for “Reduced Sodium” on the packaging label. Also, drain and rinse the contents before you prepare them.
Frozen fruits and vegetables, meanwhile, are dietitian-approved. They typically have as many nutrients as fresh foods.
For frozen foods, be sure there are no hidden sauces or spices pre-mixed in the bag, as those can be heavy in salt and unhealthy fats.
Frozen whole fruit is a great option if you can’t find fresh versions.
The Mediterranean diet excludes most processed foods or pre-packaged foods because they’re typically high in sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
Processed foods found in boxes or bags can contain ingredients and preservatives our body can’t use—and these items are also more likely to lead to chronic disease.
The big benefit of the Mediterranean diet is its focus on fresh produce, whole grains, healthy oils and minimally processed ingredients.
You can add healthy oils into your diet by making some simple swaps, too—nix the butter and go with olive oil or canola oil for cooking.