For decades, fat has been the boogeyman of any diet. As with many things in life, however, the subject of fat is a lot more nuanced than most people believe. There are both healthy and unhealthy fats, and your body needs healthy fats for a variety of reasons.
Let’s get started!
What Do Healthy Fats Do?
Fat is one of three macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and proteins. Your body needs fats to survive, though they do need to be balanced. Too much fat, even healthy fat, can potentially throw your body’s balance out of whack.
Fats also come in a handful of different forms. Some of those forms are good for you, and others are potentially harmful. Your body will still make use of the bad fats if they’re all that are available, but you could suffer from some negative side effects. These side effects include higher cholesterol, higher risk of heart disease, higher blood pressure, and the potential for abnormal heart rhythms.
Conversely, healthy fats help lower those risks. When your body uses healthy fats, you lower your bad cholesterol, lower your risk of heart disease or stroke, lower bodily inflammation, lower blood pressure, and can help prevent the hardening of arteries called atherosclerosis. Plus, healthy fats help you feel more sated after eating them, reducing appetite, lowering the amount of food you need to eat to feel full, and suppressing the urge to snack. As you might expect, this makes them great for adding to smoothies and other meal replacements.
In your body, healthy fats are used in a variety of processes. Some molecules (like certain vitamins and compounds like curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and some medicines) are fat-soluble, which means they can only be absorbed by the body if they are dissolved in fat first. Healthy fats facilitate this process. Healthy fats are also used for fuel when sugars and carbs are not available. On top of that, they’re used in muscle contraction and blood clotting. Without fats, your body will have all sorts of problems!
What Fats are Healthy and Why?
To understand which fats are healthy and which aren’t, you need to know a little bit about how and why fats work. This will get a little technical, but don’t worry; we’ll try to make it easy to understand.
A fat molecule (or triglyceride) is an organic chain of compounds called fatty acids (like omega-3s) attached to a backbone of glycerol. The fatty acids come in several forms and can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are fats that have no double bonds, and are “saturated” with hydrogen. If there are double bonds, the fat has less hydrogen in it and is unsaturated. If it has only one double bond, it’s mono (one) unsaturated. If it has more than one, yup, you guessed it; these are polyunsaturated (poly meaning multiple) fats.
Fats can also be cis or trans. Yes, those terms do come from chemistry, originally! Cis fats have double bonds on one side, making a curved molecule. Trans fats have double bonds on either side of the molecule, keeping it straight. Trans fats are rare in nature but are made through partial hydrogenation.
Hydrogen, right? Hydrogenation infuses unsaturated fats with hydrogen artificially, creating trans fats.
So, we’re left with four primary types of fats:
- Monounsaturated fat.
- Polyunsaturated fat.
- Trans fats (partially saturated)
- Saturated fats.
You can read the science in greater detail, along with diagrams, over here. What matters to us today is that some of these fats are healthy and some are not. So which is which?
Trans fats, as you may have heard, are bad for you. So, too, are saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, conversely, are good for you. This is why you want to avoid any food that contains trans-fats or excess amounts of saturated fat. Anything with “partially hydrogenated oil” in it is bad for you as well.
It’s worth making a note here that Harvard’s medical school has performed some studies and literature analysis on this subject. They found that there’s not all that much evidence to suggest that saturated fats are definitively bad for you. Trans fats are certainly bad for you and are directly linked to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. Saturated fats may or may not be bad, but it won’t hurt you to avoid them or consume them in smaller quantities. Unsaturated fats are, across the board, generally considered good for you.
What Foods Are Good Sources of Healthy Fats?
If we’re considering monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats both good for you, then you can start to look for foods that contain one or the other. Once you have that list, you can then decide which ones you like, and which ones work best in your smoothies.
Monounsaturated fats come in a variety of sources, including:
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Canola Oil
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
Generally, most nuts and most seeds (though not all of them) are good sources of monounsaturated fats.
As for polyunsaturated fats, you can find them in:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Soybean Oil
You might have noticed a bit of a pattern here. Fish – why, that’s one of the best sources of Omega-3s! What about Omega-3s, are they also a type of polyunsaturated fat?
The answer is yes – all polyunsaturated fats are either Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s are almost universally good for you. There is some contention about whether or not Omega-6s are good for you, however. The consensus, for now, is that they’re good for you in moderation, but that the typical American diet has more than enough of them, and if you get too much of them, it can go too far in the other direction and potentially be harmful. The same can be said about most healthy minerals and vitamins.
Of course, this isn’t entirely relevant for our discussion. You’re probably not going to put some salmon in your smoothies, after all. You certainly can, but we wouldn’t generally recommend it. Flax is a better option for your omegas.
How Can You Use Healthy Fats in a Smoothie?
Yeah, yeah, all of that is nice, but you’re here for smoothie ideas, not a science lesson. Let’s get down to details, shall we? Just one more thing before we begin. If you want to skip all the legwork of experimenting and developing smoothies yourself, you can always just try my program. The Smoothie Diet plan is a complete plan of smoothie recipes, ingredient lists, methods of preparation, and everything else you need to get started with healthy smoothies right away. That said, if you want to plan it out yourself, here’s how to do it.
First, you need to decide on a smoothie concept. A smoothie concept is, essentially, the overall flavor profile you want to achieve. You have a few main options here.
- Fruit smoothies are light, flavorful, and packed full of energy-boosting antioxidants and vitamins. They tend to be quite sweet, are often tangy, and rely heavily on healthy fruits and berries to get you the nutrients you want out of your smoothie.
- Green smoothies are less sweet and tangy than fruit smoothies. They’re more earthy and tend to have a higher level of minerals and phytonutrients to help your body stay healthy. Green smoothies often use simple vegetables like kale or spinach for their green focus, but may also use other ingredients like carrot juice for a different flavor profile. Green smoothies may include supplements like spirulina, chlorella, chlorophyll, or another super green as well. Green smoothies are often, but not always, detox smoothies.
- A dessert smoothie does not necessarily mean a sugar-packed smoothie, but it does tend to have a sweeter profile. These are typically based on the “candy bar” flavor profile, using nut butter, cocoa powder, and other sweets to give you something closer to a milkshake than a smoothie.
You can mix and match these as well. Most green smoothies contain fruit to make them sweeter, and many dessert smoothies use bananas as a base as well. The options are limitless, all you need to do is decide on the flavor profile you want.
Second, you need to pick a source of healthy fats you like. We’ve provided a list of healthy fat ingredients up above, but not all of them are a particularly healthy choice for smoothies. Who wants sardines in a smoothie? Yuck! Instead, narrow your focus to some of the ingredients that work best in smoothies instead.
1. A small dose of a healthy oil will add a bit of a thicker, heartier taste to your smoothie. Oils are great because they’re relatively neutral in flavor, and can be added to any smoothie recipe without disrupting it too much. Just make sure not to add too much of them, because then your smoothie might separate or be unpleasant to eat.
We recommend olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, or peanut oil.
2. Plain, fresh avocado is a great, flavorful option to add healthy fats to your smoothies. It adds a distinct flavor, but it’s a flexible flavor that can work equally well in any kind of smoothie. Most people prefer it as a base for green smoothies, but if you’ve never tried it in a fruit smoothie, you’re missing out.
3. Whole/chopped nuts or seeds. Do you like a little substance or a little crunch to your smoothies (or do you want to make a smoothie bowl)? Mix up your ingredients, use a little less liquid, and add some ingredients with substance to the top. This is a great place to add nuts and seeds. Hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds are great, as are tablespoons of chia, flax, and hemp seeds. Chopped nuts are great as well. Whole nuts are fine, but many people prefer to give them a quick blitz in the food processor first.
4. Nut butter. If you want the healthy fats that are locked inside nuts, but you don’t want to eat whole nuts, nut butter is the way to go. Nutty, earthy, and hearty, nut butter is great when added in dessert smoothies or as a mix-in for green smoothies. They may clash with certain fruit blends, but they’re great in others, and a lot of it comes down to taste. Warning: make sure to get healthy and organic nut butter! Some commercial nut butter has partially hydrogenated oils or other additives like sugar that ruin the smoothie’s health benefits.
5. MCT Oil. Medium-Chain Triglyceride oil is an oil derived from coconut oil, but with a much more neutral flavor. It’s a perfect additive to a ton of different healthy foods because it’s pretty much nothing but concentrated healthy fats. It has a place in this list because it’s extremely potent and it’s a healthy and effective option.
6. Nut milk. Instead of using water, ice, or dairy as a base for your smoothie, consider a bit of nut milk. Nut milk is generally healthier than most dairy, and they serve as a great base that still gives you some of the healthy fats from the nuts they’re made out of. Nut milk also tends to have a bit less protein than dairy, so you may want to add in some extra protein to your smoothies as well.
Once you’ve picked your smoothie recipe and your healthy fat, all that’s left is to make it. Add your bases, add your fruits or veg, and blend it down. Don’t forget to properly wash and prepare your ingredients – remove stems, pits, or seeds that you don’t want to eat or have blended into your smoothie. You can adjust the thickness of your smoothie by adding more healthy fats such as avocado or nut butter, or more of your base juice or milk to thin it out to your preference. Top with any additions, like chopped nuts, and you’re ready to go!
And, again, if you don’t want to mess around experimenting with different recipes and just want a diet plan you can follow, give the Smoothie Diet a try. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s very flexible. All you need to do is pick up the ingredients (and a decent blender, if you don’t have one) and get started making them at home. What’s not to love?
Do you have any recommendations for healthy fats that you like to add to your smoothies? What is your favorite option on this list? Care to share with us? Drop me a message in the comment section below – I reply to every comment and I’d love to hear your thoughts!