Palate and heart, rejoice: Emerging research shows some fats have powerful health benefits. Our recipes explore this tasty development.
Credit: Randy Mayor

Whether it’s a fruity olive oil drizzled over a salad, slices of avocado tucked into a sandwich, or buttery pine nuts tossed with pasta, ingredients with fats round out flavors and add satisfying textures to dishes. Now a growing body of research cites certain fats―the unsaturated ones found in many plants and fish―as health promoters, too. These fats may offer protection against heart disease, stroke, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes.

“What’s important for health and preventing disease is the type of fat, not the percent of calories from fat,” says Meir Stampfer, MD, DPH, Harvard Medical School professor of medicine.

Because of this shift, we have changed the nutritional policy of Cooking Light: We no longer publish the -percentage of calories from fat in the nutrition analysis of recipes. Instead, we emphasize prudent amounts of beneficial fats while keeping unhealthful saturated fats in check. This allows for fresh flavors and new techniques in our recipes.

Keep your balance

“Our recipes employ healthful fats to best effect,” says Cooking Light Associate Food Editor Kathy Kitchens Downie, RD.

“The total fat values for some recipes may seem high at first glance,” she says. “But if you look at the whole picture from the analysis, you’ll see that you’re getting a healthy balance.”

In many cases, the fat grams in these recipes come from good-for-you poly- and monounsaturated varieties. Yet even the saturated fat―from main dishes to cookies―should fit easily into a day’s allotment. (The American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest aiming for 15 grams or 22 grams of saturated fat daily, respectively.)

Focus on healthful fats

Vegetable oils, avocados, or nuts and seeds may derive 85 to 100 percent of their calories from fat, but they can―and should―be part of a nutritious, balanced diet. “Focusing on percent of calories from fat, without distinction of type of fat, may do more harm than good by continuing to oversimplify the dietary advice,” says Stampfer.

Note the calories

“All fats contain more than twice the calories per gram than protein or carbohydrate,” says Downie. So bearing this in mind, Cooking Light will continue to offer recipes with sound portion sizes and appropriate calories for the serving. And, as always, we will evaluate each recipe’s total nutrition package. And since our recipes typically don’t use processed foods or ingredients that harbor artificial trans fats, most would contribute trace amounts―if any.

The bottom line: Three common-sense steps can help you incorporate good-for-you fats into your diet.

1. Substitute good-for-you fats from plant-based foods for animal-based fats, when possible. For example, use canola oil in place of butter for sautéing vegetables.

2. Enjoy sensible portions of lean cuts of beef and pork as well as low-fat dairy to keep saturated fats in check.

3. Employ nuts, seeds, olives, and flavorful oils with beneficial fats as a garnish instead of a main ingredient to manage calories.