Cholesterol-Friendly Foods That Are High in Unsaturated Fat

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Unsaturated fats are also known as your “good fats” because they can have a positive effect on your heart health. Although the mechanisms by which they affect lipids is not fully known, studies have shown that unsaturated fats can modestly lower your LDL cholesterol and increase your HDL cholesterol levels. Some polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can also help lower your triglyceride levels.

Although there are many supplements containing unsaturated fats, such as cod liver oil and fish oil, obtaining unsaturated fats from foods can also supply other heart-healthy nutrients in your diet. Current dietary guidelines recommend that 25 to 35% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat, with unsaturated fats consisting most of the fat consumed in your diet.

If you want to include unsaturated fats in your diet, you should make sure that these foods replace other foods in your diet that are high in saturated fat – rather than add to them. Otherwise, you may risk gaining weight and increasing your lipid levels. The following foods are higher in unsaturated fats in comparison to other foods, and there are many ways you can fit them into your healthy diet:

  • Avocados. This delicious fruit is chock-full of monounsaturated fats. Avocados can be added to many types of foods in your diet – as a spread on your sandwich or sliced onto your favorite soup, salad, or entrée.
  • Olives.  Green, black, Kalamata – olives are not only high in flavor, they are also high in monounsaturated fats. Whether you slice, dice, or use them whole, there are many opportunities to add olives to your cholesterol-friendly diet.
  • Nuts.  These delicious foods are high in both polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Walnuts are typically higher in polyunsaturated fats in comparison to other nuts, whereas pistachios, almonds and pecans are higher in monounsaturated fat content. Nuts are also high in other healthy ingredients, such as fiber, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals and protein. Nuts are also very versatile and can be included in your diet in a number of ways. A handful of nuts can make a satisfying snack, or they can be added to a salad.
  • Fatty fish. Fish are generally lean and good to include in your lipid-lowering diet. However, some fish are high in omega-3 fats, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. Fish in this category would include salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and anchovy. If you include this type of fish in your diet, you can keep it heart-healthy by grilling, baking, or poaching. However, you should avoid frying the fish, as this can introduce calories and unhealthy trans fats into your diet.
  • Certain oils. Oils can be used in dips, dressings and in preparing your favorite sautéed or baked goods. If you’re following a lipid-lowering diet, you can switch out butter or margarine for oils high in unsaturated fat. These oils include olive, canola, vegetable, safflower, corn and soybean oils.
  • Seeds. Besides nuts, seeds can also make a good go-to snack that is high in filling fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat. Sesame seeds are higher in monounsaturated fats, whereas pumpkin, sunflower, flax and chia seeds are higher in polyunsaturated fats. Seeds can be included in your sides, in your granola, or as a topper for your salads. However, you should watch out for salt content – since some seeds may be prepared with a lot of salt.

    There are also many commercially prepared foods available that may also contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. To check if your favorite food is high in unsaturated fat, you should check your food labels under Total Fat content.


    Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 14th ed 2015.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from

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