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5 Dietitian-Approved High-Fat Foods

Once vilified, foods containing high dietary fat are now being promoted as an important part of our daily diet

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For years, prevailing dietary guidelines advised us to trim the fat from our diets. Low-fat options were glamorized; store shelves were lined with fat-free foods. Oh, the joys of the egg-white omelet.

Now, fat is no longer vilified as it was in the 1980s. While the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans still recommends restraint when it comes to saturated fat, it does promote other fat as an important and essential part of our diet. Some dietary fat is important for protecting our organs, helping build important hormones, supporting cellular function, and providing the energy we need for our daily functions. We also need this macronutrient for the proper absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Plus, high-fat foods satiate the appetite and add flavor to meals and snacks. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that simply replacing about 10 percent of the calories in our diets that come from saturated fat with calories from unsaturated fat can improve markers associated with better heart functioning.

Here are five high-fat foods that you can add to your meals today.

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1. Brazil Nut

While roughly 90 percent of the calories in this giant nut hail from fat, a large part of those calories come in the form of heart-helping monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

But what really stands out about Brazil nuts is their selenium content. Just a single nut provides more than a day’s worth of this mineral, according to nutrition analysis by the United States Department of Agriculture. In our bodies, selenium is incorporated into what is known as selenoproteins, which have a range of functions including protecting cells from oxidative damage, managing thyroid metabolism, and DNA synthesis. Higher levels of the mineral may also offer some protection from strokes.

It’s also worth noting that the Brazil nut industry can help reduce the amount of deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest: unlike nuts such as almonds and walnuts, most of the world’s Brazil nuts are harvested almost exclusively from wild trees that grow throughout the Amazon Basin.

Just be a little cautious when chowing down on Brazil nuts. They’re so dense in selenium that you don’t want to go overboard for the risk of selenium toxicity, which can have severe gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, among others. A good daily serving would be two to three whole nuts.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

Enjoy Brazil nuts as an out-of-hand snack or mix the chopped nuts into yogurt, salads, or oatmeal. Dip Brazil nuts into melted dark chocolate for a healthy treat, blend into smoothies, or use them in place of pine nuts when making pesto.

2. Full-Fat Yogurt

Research published in PLOS Medicine has shown that those with higher intakes of dairy fat, measured by levels of certain fatty acids in the blood, had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with low intakes. Although the investigators concluded that more research is needed to confirm the findings, the results seem to suggest that you may not need to rely on low-fat or fat-free dairy alone if you want to stay heart-healthy. This is echoed by findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which discovered that, as long as dairy fat is consumed as part of a whole foods-based diet, it may not have detrimental impacts on blood lipids and blood pressure numbers.

There is a chance that different types of saturated fat from different sources (for instance, red meat versus yogurt) have a varying impact on heart health or that the nutrition matrix in dairy—which includes essential amino acids, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12—helps offset any potential detrimental impact of its saturated fat. But more research is needed to determine if some high-fat dairy is more beneficial than others, say fermented yogurt rather than butter. Still, you can count on yogurt to be a reliable source of probiotics that will aid with digestive and immune health.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

A bowl of plain, full-fat yogurt topped with berries is a healthy snack or breakfast option. Blend yogurt into smoothies or use it as a base for creamy dressings. Thick Greek or Skyr yogurt is a good stand-in for sour cream in recipes.

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3. Mackerel

This fish is an omega-3 fat powerhouse. While numbers vary based on the type of mackerel (and where and when it was caught), a three-ounce serving has about two grams of omega-3 fatty acids. As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, having higher levels of omega-3s in the blood through regularly including oily fish in the diet increases life expectancy by almost five years. And consuming two to three grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids from food sources was linked to reductions in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Mackerel is also high in protein, selenium, niacin, vitamin B12, and hard-to-get vitamin D.

You can get a general idea of the fat content of most fish species by looking at the color of the flesh. The leanest species such as tilapia and flounder have a white or lighter color, and fattier fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring, usually have a much darker hue.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

Prepare richly-flavored fillets of mackerel by grilling, baking, or pan-frying them on the stove. Convenient smoked and canned mackerel can be used in sandwiches, salads, frittatas, and pasta dishes.

4. Avocado Oil

Though not as well known as olive oil, avocado oil, which is made by pressing the oil from the pulp of the fruit, is just as versatile and delicious. Like olive oil, it’s a standout source of oleic acid—about 70 percent of the calories in the oil hail from this type of omega-9 fatty acid. (Only 12 percent of the fat calories come from saturated fat.) The FDA has determined that there’s enough evidence to support a qualified health claim that consuming oleic acid in edible oils, such as avocado oil, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. And because the total amount of omega-6 in avocado is relatively small, there’s less worry that using the oil will greatly increase the intake of this type of fat that can drive up inflammation when the consumption of omega-3 fats doesn’t keep pace.

One preliminary study found adding avocado oil to a salad significantly increased the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoid antioxidants, including the beta-carotene and lycopene found in colorful veggies like carrots and tomatoes. It can also be considered a source of several antioxidants itself, including lutein, a fat-soluble carotenoid compound linked to improving eye health.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

There are two main types of avocado oil: so-called virgin, or extra-virgin, and refined. Virgin avocado oil, like olive oil, is made from the first pressing of the avocados and maintains more of the fruit’s flavor and antioxidant compounds. Use this oil as you would olive oil in dressings, dips, gazpacho, and sauces like pestos.

Refined avocado oil is made by filtering the virgin oil to remove small particles of pulp and other impurities. This process also dulls the color and flavor. This version of the oil has a higher smoke point, making it an excellent cooking and baking oil.

5. Sunflower Seed Butter

Made by grinding up the seeds of its namesake plant, sunflower butter has a consistency and flavor similar to good-old peanut butter. On top of providing up to seven grams of plant-based protein in a two-tablespoon serving (which is on par with peanut butter), sunflower butter is a good source of unsaturated fats–6.5 grams in each tablespoon.

Other nutritional highlights of the food include significant amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E, bone-helping phosphorus, and magnesium, an often under-consumed micronutrient that the National Institutes of Health says is required for roughly 300 enzymes in our bodies to perform biochemical reactions, including blood sugar regulation, nerve function, and protein synthesis.

If you’re concerned about rising food prices, sunflower butter tends to be a more economical choice than other nut butters. It’s also an allergy-friendly option for those who can’t tolerate peanuts or tree nuts. If you’re watching your sugar intake, select options that don’t include any added sweeteners like honey or cane sugar in the ingredient list.

How to Enjoy This High-Fat Food

You can slather creamy sunflower butter on your morning toast, or try using it in smoothies, dressings, and homemade energy foods like bars and balls for some extra healthy fat. Also, consider stirring it into oatmeal and spreading it over apple slices. You can even use the seed butter as an ingredient to thicken and add richness to savory pureed soups, like butternut squash or cauliflower.

Originally published in Outside Magazine

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