These high-fat foods are actually good for you

By Melissa Sammy, MDLinx
Published July 11, 2019

Key Takeaways

It might seem counterintuitive, but eating certain foods high in fat can actually help you keep the pounds off and improve your overall health.

Indeed, researchers have now shown that dietary fats, including saturated fat, may not be as villainous as we once thought—especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. In fact, in response to current research and emerging evidence, the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services removed the limit on total fat consumption in the American diet in the updated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—a bold move that reversed nearly 40 years of focus on reducing total fat consumption. Since 2005, the guidelines had emphasized a reduction of dietary fat to between 20% to 35% of caloric intake/day.

With fats now returning to the culinary scene and gaining popularity with some fitness trends, such as with the keto diet, let’s take a look at some foods that—despite their high fat content—are incredibly nutritious, filling, and worth adding to your diet.


An excellent source of calcium, fatty acids, protein, and other vitamins and minerals, cheese has been shown to protect against numerous health ills, including type 2 diabetes, total mortality, and mortality from cerebrovascular causes.

In one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that people who regularly ate high-fat dairy products, including cheese, actually had the lowest incidence of diabetes.

In an analysis of data from the Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) study, experts found that dairy products—with the exception of milk—may protect against both total mortality and mortality secondary to cerebrovascular causes. Specifically, consumption of all dairy was associated with a 2% lower total mortality risk, with cheese consumption reducing the risk by 8%. For cerebrovascular mortality, they observed a 4% decreased risk with total dairy consumption.

Despite these positive findings, it’s important to note that cheese should be eaten in moderation, given its high sodium and saturated fat content, which can raise your blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, respectively.


Avocados are excellent sources of potassium—containing more than even bananas—and fiber. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, or oleic acid, which has been shown to promote satiety and positively impact LDL cholesterol levels. Researchers have shown that eating the “alligator pears” can promote a host of positive health benefits in addition to cardiovascular improvement.   

In one meta-analysis of 10 studies, adherence to an avocado-enriched diet significantly decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels—even in healthy participants with relatively normal baseline values.

In an analysis of data from the NHANES 2001-2008, people who incorporated avocados into their regular diets weighed less and had less body fat. 

In another study, researchers found that polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols derived from avocados exerted a protective effect against skin photoaging by reducing ultraviolet (UV)-induced cellular damage and inflammation in sun-exposed human skin.

Dark chocolate

Despite being a high-calorie, high-fat food, dark chocolate is on the lower end of the glycemic index. It’s also a good source of antioxidants due to its high flavanol content. Flavanols are a type of polyphenol, a class of phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The flavanols found in dark chocolate have been shown to increase blood flow via vasodilation, lower blood pressure levels, and reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

In one recent meta-analysis of 23 studies, eating chocolate lowered the relative risk of heart failure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary heart disease. Upon dose-response analysis, the investigators found 45 g of dark chocolate per week to be the most effective amount for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Furthermore, researchers who conducted a small randomized trial noted that the more cocoa flavonoids healthy participants consumed, the more vasodilatory and blood pressure-lowering benefits they reaped.

In addition to heart health, dark chocolate can offer some benefits with respect to eye health. In another small trial, participants who ate dark chocolate had significantly improved contrast sensitivity and visual acuity for 2 hours following consumption.

Of note, eating too much chocolate, including dark chocolate, will likely negate the health benefits provided by flavanols and may lead to the negative effects correlated with excess sugar and fat intake.


Although eggs have long been considered unhealthy due to the high cholesterol and fat content found in their yolks, eating an egg a day is correlated with improved heart health, according to recent research.

For instance, in a study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers, including eggs in a carbohydrate-restricted diet increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and decreased risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome in overweight/obese study participants. Importantly, egg consumption did not raise LDL cholesterol levels.

In another study, researchers found that daily egg consumption was associated with a lower risk of CVD compared with rarely or never eating eggs. In addition, daily egg consumers had a 26% lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a 28% lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke death, and an 18% lower risk for death from CVD. Daily egg consumption was also linked to a 12% lower risk for ischemic heart disease and a 14% lower risk for major cardiac events compared with not eating eggs.


An integral component of the oft hailed Mediterranean diet, fatty fish—including salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna—are potent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important agent in brain maintenance. Because humans can’t synthesize DHA, we need to get it from our diet. Thus, experts recommend eating a 3-oz serving of fatty fish at least two times per week. In addition to improved brain function, omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been associated with a number of health benefits, including protection against multiple sclerosis, preservation of cognitive integrity, protection against vision loss, and reduction of body weight and fat.

Furthermore, according to results from intervention trials, high intake of lean seafood vs meats may decrease caloric intake by 4% to 9% over the long term, which may help to prevent obesity. Lean seafood consumption may also decrease fasting and postprandial biomarkers of insulin resistance, and increase insulin sensitivity in people who are insulin resistant.


Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition, rich in vitamins and minerals, low in carbohydrates, and high in fiber, protein, and polyunsaturated fats.

Like fish, certain nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to boost brain power. For instance, in some studies, adults who ate less than a handful of walnuts daily demonstrated improved performance on memory, concentration, and information-processing speed tests. In other studies, eating walnuts was linked to overall brain health and reduced cognitive impairment. In addition to various vitamins and minerals, walnuts are also high in antioxidants, and are the only nut that has a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid—a plant-based essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that must be obtained through the diet and has both cardiovascular and brain-boosting health benefits.

Nuts—again, like fish—can also promote weight loss. Eating nuts tends to result in weight loss, despite their high fat content, because they are filling. In one cross-sectional survey, for instance, high nut consumption was significantly correlated to a lower prevalence of being overweight or exhibiting general and abdominal obesity. However, this observation was specific to women, not men. Nuts in the study included walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds.


Yogurt tends to get a bad rep due to the added sugar that some brands may contain, but with careful selection, it can be a very healthy food choice. Opting for plain, unsweetened, Greek yogurt will garner you the most health benefits. A 3.5-oz serving of plain yogurt, for example, tends to have about 4 g of sugar, 9 g of protein, and an abundance of calcium and probiotic bacteria. Because yogurt is high in protein, it will help keep feeling fuller for longer and, thus, may help to prevent overeating.

In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers examined specific dietary and lifestyle behaviors in three separate cohorts free from chronic disease and not obese at baseline (N=120,877). Participants who ate yogurt consistently had the least amount of weight gain (–0.82 lb) within each of the three 4-year periods evaluated.

Yogurt may also help to reduce the risk of precancerous bowel growth. In a recent study published in Gut, researchers found that in men, eating ≥ 2 servings of yogurt weekly may help reduce the risk of developing adenomas, which precede the development of bowel cancer. Specifically, men were 19% less likely to develop conventional adenomas when they ate at least two servings of yogurt per week vs those who didn’t eat yogurt. And this reduced risk was even greater for adenomas that were likely to become cancerous (26%), and for those located in the colon vs the rectum.

The bottom line

Fat isn’t something to fear or shy away from. Along with carbohydrates and protein, it’s one of the essential macronutrients your body needs to function properly. And a good diet should include a balance of both healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The foods mentioned above are some of the best sources of these fats—but remember: moderation is key. Eating too much of these high-fat foods may lead to adverse health consequences. And be sure to limit the amount of saturated fats you include in your diet, which mainly come from animal sources, while avoiding trans fats (often found in fried foods) as much as possible.

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