The Role of Healthy Fats in Plant-Based Eating
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Salad dressings are made with good fats

As consumer awareness and interest in health and well-being rises, it is no wonder the popularity of plant-based eating has become a top food trend. Many plant-based foods contain beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants, and limited levels of undesired nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. This may explain why diets rich in plant foods have been shown to lower risks for heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.[i],[ii]

Heightened focus on sustainable food production may also play a role in the rise of plant-based eating, since diets higher in plant foods are associated with lower environmental impact, including fewer greenhouse gases emissions, and less energy, land and water use than the current average U.S. diet.[iii]

The Role of Good Fats 

Much of the plant-based focus is directed toward replacing meat with alternative sources of protein, but there are other ways you can coach your clients to incorporate more plant foods into their diets. Specifically, replacing animal fats with certain plant-based fats and oils can help consumers reduce their intake of bad fats and increase intake of good fats, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Consider the vast majority of unsaturated fats are found in plant-based foods. Monounsaturated fats are commonly found in canola, olive, peanut, safflower and sunflower oils, along with avocados, olives and many types of nuts. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts and canola, corn, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils. On the other hand, saturated fats are primarily found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy foods.

Tips for Clients

It is important, however, to teach clients that animal fats vs. plant-based fats isn’t black and white. Some animal-based foods, such as fatty fish, contain good fats, while some plant-based fats, like coconut and palm oils, are high in saturated fats. Guide clients toward healthier choices and encourage them to check the nutrition facts panel to compare different products. The Good Fats 101 Shopping List is a helpful resource for making smart choices. You can also use these kitchen suggestions to help your clients shift to eating more healthy plant-based fats.

  • Cooking applications — When roasting, sautéing or stir-frying, simply replace butter with cooking oil (click here for tips on how to choose the right oil for the right recipe).
  • When baking — Use ¾ cup canola oil for every cup of melted butter. For recipes that call for sticks of butter, substitute equal amounts of pureed avocado.
  • Use a better spread — Nut butters and mashed avocado can easily replace butter or mayonnaise.
  • Salads — Swap out cheese for chopped walnuts, slice almonds or sunflower seeds.
  • Make a better burger — Replace some of the beef or turkey with chopped walnuts; instead of cheese, try sliced avocado.
  • Snack time — Satisfy hunger with pumpkin seeds, pistachios, guacamole with whole grain tortilla chips or apples dipped in nut butter.

For more guidance on choosing and using good fats — and promoting plant-based eating — check out our shop smart tips, ideas!

[i] Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: vegetarian diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(12):1970-1980.

[ii] Turner-McGrievy G, Mandes T, Crimarco A. A Plant-Based Diet for Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: JGC. 2017;14(5):369-374.

[iii] Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). 2015. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/10-chapter-5/.