Types of Healthy Fats in Fruits and Vegetables

When you think of fat in foods, cheese, meat, dairy and other animal foods probably come to mind. Plant foods also contain fat — sometimes in large quantities. Although the predominant type of fat in fruits and vegetables consists of healthy monounsaturated fats, there is also saturated fat in fruit. Whether or not this type of saturated fat is as bad for you as the kind found in animal products is hotly debated, but limiting your intake is still recommended.

Fats in Fruits & Vegetables (Image: InaTs/iStock/GettyImages)

Fatty Fruits and Vegetables

There aren't any high-fat vegetables, and there are very few fruits that fit that description either. The three fruits highest in fat are avocados, olives and coconuts. Creamy avocados have 21 grams of fat per fruit; raw coconut meat has 13.5 g per half-cup; 10 large olives have 5 g of fat.

Avocados contain mostly monounsaturated fats — around 13 of the 21 grams — with small amounts of polyunsaturated and saturated fats — 2.5 and 3 g, respectively. Ten large olives contain a little over 3 grams of polyunsaturated fats, 1 g of saturated fat and a quarter of a gram of polyunsaturated fat. Coconuts are high in saturated fat, with almost 12 g per half-cup. They have half a gram of monounsaturated fat and less than a quarter gram of polyunsaturated fat.

Fats in Other Fruits and Vegetables

Commonly eaten fruits — such as apples, oranges and bananas — have almost no fat. One medium apple contains 0.31 g of fat; one medium orange has 0.16 g of fat, and a medium banana has 0.39 g of fat. Strawberries and blueberries have around half a gram of fat per cup, and raspberries have 0.8 g of fat per cup. Tropical fruits, such as papaya and mango have 0.38 and 0.63 grams of fat, respectively.

Similar to fruits, vegetables have very little fat. Broccoli, kale and red bell peppers all have around 0.3 g per cup. Onions and potatoes are very low in fat, with 0.12 and 0.07 g of fat, respectively. Cucumber and celery have just under 0.2 g of fat per cup, and a cup of carrots has 0.31 g.

The Types of Fats in Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits contain a mix of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are the good fats. They reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering levels of the unhealthy LDL cholesterol in your body and raising levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol. Avocados are one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fats among all foods; polyunsaturated fats are abundant in fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon and mackerel; walnuts; and flaxseeds.

Most experts agree that eating too much of the saturated fat found in fatty meats, butter, lard, cream and cheese raise LDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. People are encouraged to reduce their intake of these unhealthy fats, and replace them with healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats.

Whether the saturated fats in plant foods, such as coconut oil, are as bad as the saturated fats in animal-based foods is controversial. According to licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagal, the molecules in plant-based saturated fats are smaller, therefore they won't clog your arteries like the larger-molecule saturated fats in animal products.

A study published in Lipids in 2009 concluded that daily intake of coconut oil does not raise cholesterol and aids abdominal fat loss. Twenty out of 40 female participants received 30 mL — a little over 1 ounce — every day for 12 weeks, and followed a balanced calorie-controlled diet with exercise. Another group received the same amount of soybean oil daily, and followed the same diet and exercise protocol. At the end of the study, the soybean oil group had overall increases in total cholesterol, but HDL had decreased; the coconut oil group, however, exhibited no changes in cholesterol. Both groups lowered their BMI, but only the coconut oil group decreased waist circumference.

Still, Berkeley Wellness says there's not enough long-term evidence to know for sure whether tropical oils are healthy, unhealthy or neutral. In the meantime, they recommend only using coconut oil occasionally, but choosing vegetable oils such as canola and olive oil for regular use.

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