What comes to mind when someone mentions Fat Tuesday? For me, I visualize a festive New Orleans Mardi Gras parade with elaborate costumes, beads as far as the eye can see and parties lasting well into the night. This celebratory day, however, originated as a day of religious observance. Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French, marked the last day to indulge in rich, fattening foods the night before the fasting associated with the Catholic season of Lent begins.
Pancakes, cakes and pastries are popular Fat Tuesday foods, given their high fat, starch and sugar content. As delicious as these foods are, they can wreak major havoc on your diet. But not all high-fat foods are necessarily unhealthy, nor do they necessarily lead to weight gain. Good fats, specifically monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to good heart health and efficient functioning of the immune system and metabolism.
Olive oil is extremely high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which promote heart health by lowering LDL (the "bad") cholesterol while raising the HDL (the "good") cholesterol. When choosing olive oils, look for cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is less processed and therefore contains much higher levels of antioxidants. Effortlessly incorporate olive oil into your diet by using it when sautéing or making pesto or salad dressings.
Walnuts are also high in monounsaturated fats and contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (a quarter of a cup contains almost 100 percent of the daily recommended value of omega-3 fatty acids!). Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential fat, since they cannot be produced by the body but are necessary for normal metabolic functioning. Load up on these heart-healthy tree nuts by adding them to oatmeal, salad or your favorite vegetable dishes.
It's the avocado's high fat content that makes it such a uniquely healthy food. Over half of the avocado's considerable fat content comes in the form of oleic acid, which helps lower our risk for heart disease. Adding avocados to our diet also helps the body absorb fat-soluble phytonutrients that we receive from other foods. Make guacamole, add it to your salad or make a mango avocado salsa to serve with pork, chicken or fish.
Not all fish are created equal when it comes to healthy eating. Due to high levels of pollutants, pesticides and mercury in many of the world's waters, choosing the right kind of fish to eat can be a tricky matter. Wild Alaskan salmon, which is considered a low contamination risk seafood, is one fish you can feel good about eating. It has an unusually high amount of omega-3 fatty acids as well as a host of other nutrients, mainly due to the fact that wild salmon are eating nutrient-rich sea plants. Wild salmon season runs from May to September, so stock up when you find it. If you can't find it at your local fish market, try canned Wild Alaskan salmon. It makes for a delicious and healthful alternative to canned tuna.
Peanuts, which are actually part of the legume family, are another very good source of monounsaturated fats. They also are a good source of vitamin E, folate, protein and magnesium. In addition, they also provide resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant found in red wine. Be sure to buy organic peanut butter that only contains two ingredients: peanuts and salt. Enjoy it on your toast in the morning or make a grown-up version of the classic kid sandwich by using whole grain bread, organic peanut butter and a delicious concord grape jelly.
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