The Power of Healthy Plant Fats

Sharon Palmer

Make peace with healthy fats, especially the plant-based ones. Learn why healthy plant fats are essential and how to use them wisely.

It wasn’t long ago when everyone was afraid of fats; they were thought to be responsible for making you fat, as well as promoting diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Now we know that it’s not so much the amount of fat that clogs your arteries; it’s the type of fat you choose. Healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids found in plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives lower your blood lipids, which decreases your risk for heart disease.

The Power of Healthy Plant Fats
This recipe for Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup harnesses the healthy fats of avocado for its creamy goodness.

So, here’s the moral of the story: Make peace with fats – especially the healthy plant-based ones.

The Power of Healthy Plant Fats
This Vegan Cashew Parmesan includes healthy, whole plant fats.

Here’s why these fats are essential for normal health:

1. They can help you absorb certain vitamins and phytochemicals more easily.
2. They can increase your sense of fullness at meals, therefore promoting a more stable weight.
3. They can lower your risk for heart disease.

The plant-powered recommendation? Turn to whole plant fats such as nuts, seeds, and avocados first, and turn to olive oil as your preferred cooking and preparation fat.

The Power of Healthy Plant Fats
This recipe for Super Berry Soy Chia Pudding includes healthy fats from chia seeds.

Whole Plant Fats in the Kitchen

Whole plant sources of fats come packed with a range of disease-protective nutrients and compounds that are linked with health benefits. Here’s a look at their benefits and culinary uses.

Whole Plant Food FatNutritional HighlightsCulinary Uses
AvocadosMUFAs, vitamin B6, C, E and K; folate, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and lutein.Use mashed as a dip, salad dressing, spread on bread, and fat replacer in baked goods.  Slice into sandwiches, wraps, burritos, and salads. 
Tree nuts  and Tree Nut Butters (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts)Protein, flavonoids, phytosterols, MUFAs, PUFAs, thiamin, folate, vitamins B6 and E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, (levels depend on the nut variety).Use nut butter as spread on bread or crackers, dip for vegetables, ingredient in sauces, vinaigrettes, marinades, and Asian dishes.  Use nuts in salads, side dishes, pasta dishes, stir-fries, breads, baked goods, yogurt, and cereals. 
Peanuts and peanut butterProtein, MUFAs, PUFAs, fiber, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, selenium, resveratrol, and phytosterols.Use peanut butter as spread on bread, wraps, or crackers; dip for vegetables, ingredient in sauces, dressings, marinades, and Asian dishes.  Use peanuts in recipes such as salads, side-dishes, stir-fries, breads, baked goods, yogurt, and cereals.
OlivesFiber, MUFAs, vitamins A and E, calcium, iron, copper, and range of phytochemicals such as phenols, terpenes, flavones, anthocyanadins, and flavonols.Used finely chopped (tapenade) as a spread on breads and crackers, dip for vegetables, and ingredient in entrees, side-dishes, salads, pasta dishes, and breads.
Seeds (Sesame, sunflower, flax, chia, pumpkin, hemp) and Seed ButtersALA (Alpha linolenic acid), MUFAs, PUFAs, protein, fiber, vitamins A, B1, E, and K, pantothenic acid, folate, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, lignans, phytosterols (depending on the variety).Use seed butter as a spread for breads, wraps, and sandwiches; dip for crackers and vegetables; and ingredient in sauces, dips, dressings, and Asian dishes.  Use whole seeds in salads, side-dishes, stir-fries, baked goods, yogurt, and cereals. 

For recipes that include healthy plant fats, try these:

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Hazelnuts
Overnight Spiced Oats with Figs and Walnuts
Pistachio Turmeric Rice Power Bowl

Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on October 17, 2013; updated on August 30, 2019

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