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Get Cookin’ with Whole Plant Fats

Get Cookin’ with Whole Plant Fats

Dietitian Dialogues

January 29, 2014

Sharon Palmer, RD

Today, there’s a new appreciation for healthy fats. While once people shied away from consuming fat-rich whole plant foods, like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives – these foods now wear a “health halo”. To be sure, moderation is key for these nutrient and calorie dense foods. But evidence suggests that cardiovascular disease risk is not as much about the amount of fat people consume, but the type. In fact, research has failed to link low-fat diets with energy balance, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and breast or colon cancer, as well.  

Animal fats contain a higher proportion of saturated fatty fats, which are associated with increased total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. Plant fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives, and oils made from plants like sunflowers, olives, soybean, and safflower tend to have a higher proportion of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats, with the exception of coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil. Strong evidence suggests that if you reduce saturated fats in your diet and replace them with MUFAs and PUFAs, you can decrease the risk of CVD and type 2 diabetes, because these fats improve blood lipid profile and responsiveness to insulin.  

But you can take it a step further by replacing saturated fats with whole plant food sources of fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds and olives, instead of refined plant oils – which are generally stripped of their fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals compounds – to gain even more benefits. By using these whole plant fats – the way Mother Nature intended them – you gain the health benefits of the whole nutrient package. 

While it might be difficult to swap out all refined plant oils for whole plant fat sources, it’s certainly a healthy habit worth shooting for. For example, a number of studies have found benefits for including nuts in the diet. While most of the research on nut benefits has focused on heart health, they have also been linked with bone health, cancer prevention, improved cognitive function, and diabetes prevention and treatment. It’s quite simple to include nut butters or mashed avocado as sandwich spreads instead of refined margarine spreads. You can even replace refined oils in some of your favorite recipes – from quick breads to sauces – with nut butters, ground seeds, and mashed avocado. Go ahead, let the nutritional power of these delicious, powerful plant fats shine in your favorite foods.  

Whole Plant Fats for Health 

Whole plant fats come packed with a number of disease-protective compounds that are linked with health benefits. Here’s a look at their benefits and culinary uses:  

Whole Plant Food Fat 

Nutritional Benefits

Culinary Uses 


Packed with MUFAs, vitamin B6, C, E and K, folate, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and lutein. 

Use mashed as dip, salad dressing, spread on bread, and fat replacer in baked goods.  Add to sandwiches and salads.  

Tree nuts and tree nut butters (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts)

Rich in protein, flavonoids, phytosterols, MUFAs, PUFAs, thiamin, folate, vitamins B6 and E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, (levels depend on the nut variety).

Use tree nut butter as spread on bread, dip for crackers and vegetables, ingredient in sauces, vinaigrettes and marinades; and for sautéing in Asian dishes. Use nuts in dishes such as salads, side dishes, stir-fries, baked goods and cereals.  

Peanuts and peanut butter

Source of protein, MUFAs, PUFAs, fiber, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, selenium, resveratrol, and phytosterols. 

Use peanut butter as spread on bread, dip for crackers and vegetables, ingredient in sauces, dressings, and marinades; and for sautéing in Asian dishes. Use nuts in recipes such as salads, side dishes, stir-fries, baked goods and cereals. 


Rich in fiber, MUFAs, vitamins A and E, calcium, iron, copper, and range of phytochemicals such as phenols, terpenes, flavones, anthocyanadins, and flavonols. 

Used finely chopped (tapenade) as a spread on breads and crackers, dip for vegetables, and ingredient in entrees, side dishes, salads, breads, vinaigrettes, and sauces. 

Seeds (sesame, sunflower, flax, chia, pumpkin, hemp)

Depending on the variety, rich in ALA (Alpha linolenic acid), MUFAs, PUFAs, protein, fiber, vitamins A, B1, E, and K, pantothenic acid, folate, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, lignans, phytosterols. 

Use ground seeds as a spread for breads and sandwiches, as a dip for crackers and vegetables, as a fat replacer in baked goods, and as an ingredients in sauces, dips, and dressings. Use whole seeds in salads, side dishes, baked goods, and cereals.  


Sharon Palmer, RD is a plant-based nutrition expert, editor of Environmental Nutrition, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet and the upcoming book, Plant-Powered for Life. Based in Los Angeles, she writes and speaks frequently on the health benefits of a diet powered with plants.  

Spiced Banana Avocado Bread 

You won’t believe the “clean” and nutrient-rich ingredient list that makes up this dense, dark quick bread – it’s sweetened with bananas and moistened with avocados. Serve it as a snack or as an accompaniment to soup, fruit, or a salad. 

Makes 12 servings 


1 medium ripe avocado, quartered

2 medium very ripe bananas

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup plant-based milk

2 teaspoons egg replacer

1/4 cup rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 
  2. Put the peeled avocado and bananas into a medium mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer or use a masher to make a smooth mixture.  
  3. Add the canola oil, vanilla, and plant-based milk and blend until smooth.
  4. Add the egg replacer, oats, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, flaxseed, and walnuts and blend until just smooth; be careful not to overwork the batter.
  5. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  6. Allow to cool slightly then turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.   

Tip: This recipe produces a very dense, moist bread. 

Per serving (1 slice per serving): 

Calories: 143

Carbohydrate: 15 g

Fiber: 3 g

Protein: 3 g 

Total fat: 9 g

Saturated fat: 1 g

Sodium: 148 mg

Star nutrients: Vitamin B6 (11% DV), iron (6% DV), magnesium (9% DV), selenium (11% DV).