By Ashleigh VanHouten

Most bad words are four letters, but one of the nastiest of them all (for women at least) has only three: F-A-T. For those of you who think “fat” is the real “f-word,” though: listen up. Research shows that for overall health you must consume healthy fats regularly. And while this may be a scary thought for the fat-o-phobes, bear with us, because fat is an essential part of a healthy and sustainable nutrition plan.

For decades, fat was thought to be the culprit in obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol. Yet, (and here’s where the sceptics should take note,) the vastly popular low-fat diets that resulted haven’t exactly resulted in most people becoming healthier. In fact, quite the opposite is true, because instead of eating the healthy fats we’ve feared, we’re turning to processed foods that are high in refined carbs and sugars.

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When it comes to health, though, not all fats are created equal. Rather, it’s the type of fat that matters (as well as how much you’re consuming). Sure, reducing some types of fats helps lower the risk of several chronic diseases, but other types of fats are absolutely essential to the health of our cells, heart, nerves, immune system and even our brain function, which is composed of 60% fat! Read on for the lowdown…

Monounsaturated fats.

This is found primarily in plant oils like canola, peanut and olive, as well as in avocados, nuts and seeds. People following traditional Mediterranean diets, which are very high in foods containing monounsaturated fats like olive oil, tend to have lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Polyunsaturated fats.

Some primary sources include flaxseed oil and foods such as walnuts, flax seeds, and fish. This fat family includes the Omega-3 group of fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and may have a positive impact on cardiovascular disease and even some types of cancer. It is important to include these in your diet as your body doesn’t naturally produce it.

While Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are both essential fats, in recent decades the ratio of these acids have become out of balance in the Western diet. Most people consume too many Omega-6 and too few Omega-3. To rebalance your intake of the omega fats:  avoid or limit vegetable oils such as corn or safflower oil, eliminate highly processed foods and increase consumption of omega-3 rich foods such as salmon, flaxseed oil and walnuts.

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Saturated fat.

These fats are primarily found in animal products (like red meat) and whole milk dairy products, but also are present in tropical vegetable oils (like coconut and palm oil) and, in small amounts, in poultry and fish. While there is still some debate on its merits, saturated fats are required for many crucial functions in the body. They make up half of cell membrane structure and enhance calcium absorption and immune function. A great way to manage your saturated fat intake is to eat organic and lower fat meats whenever possible and, if you’re adventurous, eat more game, which contain more polyunsaturated and less saturated fat than domestic meat.

Trans Fats.

Trans fats are created by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil, which appeals to food manufacturers, but wreaks havoc on your body. The bad news: most trans fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines and a lot of delicious foods like baked goods, cookies, crackers and candy, so enjoy sparingly—or, even better, make your own sweets.

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