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What is the healthiest high-fat food? The No. 1 pick, according to a dietitian

Plus, discover what the various kinds of fats mean for your health.
Barbecued salmon
Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

If you grew up in the fat-phobic 90s, it’s likely that fat-free snacks had a prominent place in your kitchen and your lunchbox.

I was one of those teens who thought fat was a no-no and replaced my higher fat snacks with some flavorless biscuits. I thought I was being healthy. But times have thankfully changed and nutrition science has shed new light on the benefits of certain dietary fats.

Let’s dig in.

What are dietary fats?

Along with protein and carbohydrates, fats are one of the three macronutrients. Fat plays many roles in the body, including hormone production and vitamin absorption and it provides calories for energy. Fats also help to protect our organs and help keep us warm. And let’s not forget, they help make food taste good. 

When it comes to calories, all fats provide the same amount per gram–9 calories. So 1 gram of fat from ice cream provides the same calories as 1 gram of fat from cashews.

Healthy vs unhealthy fats

No doubt you’ve heard about the importance of choosing “healthy” sources of fat versus “unhealthy.” But making that distinction as we navigate food choices throughout the day can be dizzying. Here’s a basic breakdown to help clear up the confusion.

Trans Fats

The type of fats we should be avoiding altogether are trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats, which have largely been eliminated from the food system, can be found in foods like donuts, pie crusts and packaged cakes and crackers. Still, small amounts of trans fats can still be created when foods are processed using high heat. 

These fats are harmful because they increase “bad” LDL cholesterol, while lowering beneficial HDL cholesterol. Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in animal products, including beef, lamb and butter. Studies have yet to prove that these naturally occurring trans fats do the same damage as the ones that have been created during processing food. 

Saturated Fats

If you’re 40 or older, your doctor has likely given you a spiel about reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fats are found in beef, dairy, pork, poultry, coconut oil and palm oil. They are generally solid at room temperature. Too much saturated fat in the diet can increase your LDL cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Monounsaturated Fats

This type of unsaturated fat has gotten a ton of press because it’s the primary fat in the foods that make up the Mediterranean Diet. You’ll find monounsaturated fats (MUFAS) in certain nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts and pecans), olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sunflower oils, as well as avocados. 

Monounsaturated fats help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, which helps lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. These fats also help maintain your body’s cells. 

Polyunsaturated fats

Like, MUFAS, polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS) help lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

However, I find that people are most confused about this category of dietary fat. That may be due to the fact that PUFAS include omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats.

Omega- 3 fats have different forms, and come from both plant and animal sources. Plant sources of polyunsaturated fats include canola, corn, soybean and sunflower oils, as well as walnuts, flax, chia, and sunflower seeds and soybeans. Animal sources of polyunsaturated fats are fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines and black cod. 

The different forms of omega-3 include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They serve many areas of the body, including our lungs, heart, and immune and endocrine systems. Basically, we can’t live without them.

PUFAS also include omega-6 fats. And like omega-3 fats, they are considered to be essential because our bodies can’t create them. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, soy, sunflower, safflower and sesame oils. The typical American diet contains plenty of omega-6, so we don’t need to go out of our way to eat more. In fact, we should be focusing on getting more omega-3 fatty acids.

What is the healthiest high-fat food? 

Wild salmon is a great choice for a high-fat food.

Seafood is a superstar when it comes to nutrition, providing protein and other nutrients that are vital for overall health, like vitamin D, calcium and zinc.

And when it comes to healthy fat, salmon is swimming in it. King salmon, in particular, is, well, the king of salmon when it comes to omega-3. Per 3-ounce serving, Alaskan king salmon delivers 1476mg of DHA and EPA combined, making it a super choice for your heart and brain. 

Other healthy high-fat foods

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A staple of the Mediterranean Diet, extra virgin olive oil is a delicious way to get your good fats. Extra-virgin is the least refined type of olive oil. In addition to being a rich source of heart protective monounsaturated fat, extra-virgin olive oil also provides polyphenols, which have antioxidant benefits. You can use it for cooking and baking, as well as for making dips and salad dressings. 


A top plant source for essential omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are the only nut to provide an excellent source of ALA, which may play an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Walnuts have been shown to be beneficial for both older adults, with regular daily consumption helping to lower cholesterol levels.

And for younger folks, helping to improve metabolic health in people ages 22 to 36. Buttery and rich, walnuts are also incredibly versatile, working in both savory and sweet recipes and can even be used as a meat replacement in tacos. And a collection of research sheds light on walnuts’ positive impact on overall health, including gut health, brain health, weight and blood sugar.

Peanut butter

One of the best-loved sources of good fat is peanut butter. Creamy and delicious, this affordable source of plant protein also provides a wealth of unsaturated fat — the kind that can help lower the risk of heart disease and improve HDL cholesterol levels.

Natural peanut butter contains 16g of fat per 2-tablespoon serving and most of that is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat with zero grams of trans fats. A serving of peanut butter also contains 3g of fiber and 8g of protein, which along with the fat it contains, helps keep you feeling fuller longer. 


With its pretty green color and super creamy consistency, this fruit has become an Instagram darling. But it’s not just a pretty face. A serving (⅓ an avocado) delivers 6g of mostly monounsaturated fat, as well as 3g of fiber and 1g of protein. Plus, they’re nutrient dense,  contributing 10% of the daily value of folate and 250mg of heart healthy potassium. What’s more, they may help improve blood glucose in certain populations with type 2 diabetes.  

Chia seeds

Small but mighty, these petite seeds contain 60% calories from fat. In addition to providing ALA omega-3, they also contain 4g of fiber in each tablespoon. Chia seeds also provide mineral calcium, making it a great topper for folks who avoid dairy. Chia seeds can also can absorb 10 to 12 times their weight in water, making them a smart food for pre and post workout to help with hydration. And they help you feel full longer, according to a 2017 study. 

Macadamia nuts

At 94% calories from fat, these nuts are virtually almost all fat. Of the 21g of fat in a 1-ounce serving, 17g are from heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Additionally, if you’re watching your carb intake, these are a smart pick, with just 4g per serving. Macadamias are also packing selenium, magnesium, potassium and other vitamins and minerals.