Fish, nuts and healthy oils are prime sources of unsaturated fats that improve heart health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

In our culture, the word “fat” is typically involved in any discussion about diet and nutrition.

But what is fat, really? (The noun, not the adjective.)

Let’s focus specifically on essential fatty acids. What do these do? We’re talking about fats the body doesn’t produce on its own, which includes essential fatty acids, triglycerides and cholesterol.

Fat helps insulate our organs, stores energy and helps protein do its job.

There’s good fat and there’s bad fat. Heart issues and many health problems can stem from bad fat, but good things can arise from good fat.

Essential sources

Some fat has certainly earned a spot in the bad category.

Trans fat and saturated fat are bad for your heart. To remember what these are, think of certain solids at room temperature. Examples are butter, shortening, pork or beef fat.

This is where cookies, cakes and other desserts come in. Remember that moderation is key.

The good guys are the unsaturated fats, which include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. When they’re eaten in moderation and they’re used to replace saturated and trans fats, these can help improve blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.

The big question is: What food sources supply good fats? Your best choices for pregnancy include avocados, nuts and nut butters, oils and fish.

Let’s take a look.

Avocados

The avocado is loaded with unsaturated fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated—and it delivers nearly two dozen vitamins and minerals. It also has lots of fiber.

If you’re a fan of avocados, pregnancy is your chance to get creative. Whip them into a guacamole. Eat them plain. Add some to salads and sandwiches. They’re also a great addition to a smoothie with some protein powder. I recently came across an avocado-and-egg salad sandwich recipe that sounds yummy!

Nuts and nut butters

Peanut butter, almond butter and other nut butters are very healthy for you. You can use them for sandwiches, celery or apple dips or just eat it by the spoonful. (Not that this has ever happened at our house).

Almond butter is a great alternative to peanut butter and it has more of the monounsaturated fat—the good stuff. You can also make your own nut butters.

Oils

Olive oil and coconut oil are best. In fact, these two are the only oils I have in my home. You can do everything you need with these.

Oils do plenty of great things for you, including lubricating skin and organs. They help your body absorb vitamins in the digestive system and they help build healthy cells. They also help the nervous system.

If you’ve never dipped a thick, warm crust of whole wheat bread into some olive oil spiced with rosemary, pregnancy is the perfect time to try it!

Fish

Fish is an excellent source of essential fatty acids and good protein. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish each week to help avoid heart issues.

One of the most beneficial aspects of fish is its omega-3 fats, which can lower your cholesterol. If you’re looking to polish up your diet, one easy thing you can do is cut down on foods that have saturated fats and turn to fish instead—your heart, your brain and your baby will all benefit!