The Skinny on Healthy Fats for Vegans and Vegetarians (VZ 44)

3 avocados are examples of healthy fats for vegans

Healthy fats for vegans and vegetarians aren’t terribly hard to find.  Whether you are plant-based or not, fats are essential for energy, cell function, and to vitamin absorption.

You can listen to our discussion of healthy fats here or read on for a summary of what we discuss.

Disclaimer: Information on this site and on our podcast is presented for educational purposes only. Always speak to your doctor before beginning any new diets or supplements. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Wait…Fats Can Be Good?

A lot of people stay away from fat, thinking it’s unhealthy. But it’s actually very important to our health! In fact, fat is one of three essential macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and protein.

Fat helps with the digestion of vitamins A, D, E, and Ks (fat-soluble), as well as promoting fullness after eating. Carbohydrates provide energy for our muscles and brains while proteins build muscle mass among other things like strengthening tooth enamel or preventing migraines; so not only are fats crucial to life–they’re also super versatile!

in the right amounts, fat is part of a healthy diet. Getting the right amount of fats on a plant-based diet isn’t terribly difficult either. Luckily, nature provides a lot of healthy yummy options!

 

Watch Out For Foods That Claim To Be “Low Fat” or “Fat-Free”

When food manufacturers remove fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or starch. Our bodies digest these refined carbohydrates and starches very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and then dip, which leads to hunger, overeating, and weight gain.

Over time, eating lots of “fast carbs” can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes as much as—or more than—eating too much saturated fat.

So we stay away from those foods that are low fat or fat-free because usually what they replace it with tends to be just as bad if not worse for you. Be sure to check labels!

 

The 3 Main Types of Fats

There are 3 main categories of fats:

  • Unsaturated
  • Saturated
  • Trans

All of these contain oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon molecules but they all have different effects on your body. Let’s talk about the good vs. the bad.

 

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

There are 3 types of fats:

  • Saturated fats – This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. However, this can also be found in coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

 

  • Trans fats –  These are also known as the “killer fats”. This is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods in small amounts but mostly they are found in HIGHLY processed foods. Trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenating oils make them easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than naturally occurring oils. Research studies show that these partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

 

  • Unsaturated fats – These are mostly found in plants. These are considered the “good” kinds of fats because they can help to lower blood cholesterol levels which decreases your chance of stroke and heart attacks.

Unsaturated fats can be broken down into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

    • Monounsaturated fats have been shown to protect your heart by reducing LDL cholesterol (bad) levels and increasing HDL (the good). They are also a rich source of Omega-A which is important for the healthiest blood pressure, mood swings and weight management!
    • Polyunsaturated fats are also good for the heart, reduce triglycerides and blood pressure levels. The two types of polyunsaturated fats, Omega-6 and Omega-3 can help to lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and have anti-inflammatory properties.  While fish oil is one way to consume Omega-3 fatty acids, that doesn’t work if you’re plant-based. Luckily, there are plant-based options as well such as some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

 

 

Healthy Fats for Vegans and Vegetarians

Now that you know the difference between good fats and bad fats, let’s get into our list of healthy fats for vegans and vegetarians. This list isn’t all-inclusive but can help you get started with incorporating more healthy fats into your diet.

 

Oils

According to the American Heart Association, these oils are better for your heart than other cooking oils. However, they should still be used in moderation:

  • Sunflower
  • Soybean
  • Peanut
  • Safflower
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Olive

Other less common oils you can try are:

  • Wheat germ
  • Flaxseed
  • Soybean

 

Nuts and Seeds

  • Hemp
  • Pumpkin
  • Sesame
  • Linseeds
  • Flax
  • Chia
  • Sunflower
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Nut butter (watch the sugar!)
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Other Sources of Healthy Fats for Vegans and Vegetarians

You may not realize this but leafy greens and herbs contain fatty acids. While perhaps not loaded with fats, these can add up the more you find ways to incorporate them into your diet.

Also, consider:

  • Wheat Germ
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Spirulina
  • Cruciferous Vegetables
  • Eggs (vegetarians)
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Quantity Matters!

Just because there are plenty of good fats to choose from doesn’t mean that you should load up on these healthy fats for vegans.

Of the 3 essential macronutrients, carbohydrates, fat, and protein, fat has the highest caloric load with 9 calories per gram. Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.

Since everyone has different requirements, be sure to talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about what makes sense for you and your diet. Just know that you can indeed have too many fats even if they are considered healthy so don’t overdo it!

 

Resources and Further Reading

The China Study: Revised and Expanded Edition

The China Study—Revised and Expanded Edition presents a clear and concise message of hope as it dispels a multitude of health myths and misinformation. The basic message is clear. The key to a long, healthy life lies in three things: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Recipe of the Week

bowl of guacamole with chips

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