Celebrate Summer with Good-for-You Fats
Written by our friends Liz Weiss, MS, RD & Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD.
Low-fat and fat-free foods were all the rage in the 1980s and 90s, but dietary fats’ bad reputation has finally given way to new, evidence-based advice that eating the right types of fat, like those found in avocados, can actually be good for your health.
Contrary to common belief, fat doesn’t make you fat; eating too many calories without burning them off is what can put on the pounds. And while saturated fat found in foods like the skin on chicken and the marbling in red meat can raise blood cholesterol levels, monounsaturated fat in foods such as olive oil and California Avocados and omega–3 polyunsaturated fats in seafood can do just the opposite when used in place of saturated fats. As registered dietitians and family food bloggers, we rely on these good-for-you fats to impart flavor and nutrition into our everyday and special occasion cooking.
The Importance of Fat
If you’re afraid of eating fat, it’s time to turn this important nutrient from foe to friend. Fat provides our bodies with energy, and while gram for gram fat has twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein (9 calories per gram for fat versus 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein), you can’t live without it. Fat is a critical part of every cell membrane in our bodies—controlling what goes in and out of our cells—and it’s needed for normal brain and nerve cell function. Fat cushions our organs and helps control growth, immune function, reproduction and metabolism; fat transports vitamins A, D, E, and K, the so-called fat-soluble vitamins, throughout our bloodstream; and it also boosts the body’s ability to absorb potentially health-enhancing carotenoids, natural pigments found in plants.
The Good-for-You Fats
- Monounsaturated Fats: Eating monounsaturated fats found in foods like olives and olive oil, avocados, canola oil, sesame and peanut oil, and nuts and seeds, has been shown to reduce heart disease risk by lowering the so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease risk of heart disease and stroke. People who live in Spain, Greece, and other Mediterranean countries and enjoy diets rich in monounsaturated fats also enjoy less heart disease.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: There are two types of polyunsaturated fats in the diet: omega–3 and omega–6. The vast majority of Americans get more than their fair share of omega–6 fats, found in foods such as corn, soybean and sunflower oils, fatty fish such as salmon, and some nuts and seeds. Like monounsaturated fats, omega–6 can also help to lower LDL cholesterol. The second kind of polyunsaturated fat, omega–3, is also good for lowering cholesterol, but the benefits go well beyond heart health. According to the American Heart Association, Omega–3s also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and can slightly lower blood pressure. New studies have identified potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Two other types of omega–3 fats—DHA and EPA—are found in fish such as salmon and trout while the plant form, alpha-linolenic acid, is found in flaxseed, walnuts and some green vegetables.
California Avocados: The Numbers
Avocado fat content contributes good fats to one’s diet, providing 3 grams of monounsaturated fat and 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat per 1-oz. serving.
Paired with salmon in our Grilled Salmon & Veggies with California Avocado Cilantro Sauce recipe, one serving provides 4.2 grams of omega–3s and 43 grams of satisfying protein.
Now that you know more about dietary fats, let’s get cooking!
Cooking with Good-for-you Fats
Now that summer is upon us, we turn to fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients when we entertain, and we keep things simple so we can spend less time cooking and more time eating great food and enjoying the company of family and friends. Our Grilled Salmon & Veggies with California Avocado Cilantro Sauce is an easy recipe that fits right in with our easy-does-it summer cooking and grilling philosophy. It’s also in line with USDA Dietary Guidelines For Americans to limit saturated fat in the diet, turning instead to foods rich in mono and polyunsaturated “good” fats.
Grilled Salmon & Veggies with California Avocado Cilantro Sauce
The party gets started with a zesty avocado sauce made simply with two large ripe California Avocados, fresh cilantro, lime juice, lime zest, plain yogurt, and salt and pepper.
We peel the avocados first (did you know that the most nutrient-dense part of the fruit is closest to the peel?) and then place them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Everything gets processed until smooth and creamy, and then we head out to the grill.
Next up comes a rainbow of vegetables including bell peppers, zucchini, and red onion, which get diced and then grilled.
When it comes to grilling vegetables, we’re not too picky. Anything we find at our local farmers’ markets is fair game for the grill: yellow summer squash, Vidalia onions, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and even avocados (use firm avocados) … you get the drift.
As the vegetables cook, their natural sugars caramelize, so each bite becomes tender and sweet. And just before we serve this colorful medley, we dice up one more luscious avocado, toss with lime juice, and then gently stir into the mix.
If our avocado sauce is the icing on the cake, then our cake (in this case) is salmon. It takes just a few minutes per side on the grill before the salmon is fork tender and ready to serve.
Try it yourself this summer season! Here’s the complete Grilled Salmon & Veggies with California Avocado Cilantro Sauce recipe.
Grilled Salmon & Veggies with California Avocado Cilantro Sauce Recipe
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Avocado Cilantro Sauce
2 ripe, Fresh California Avocados, seeded, peeled, and cut into quarters
½ cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/3 cup, packed, fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Zest the lime until it yields 1 Tbsp. of zest.
- Juice the lime.
- Place the zest and juice in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the avocados, yogurt, cilantro, olive oil, and salt. Process until smooth, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Season with additional salt and the pepper to taste.
- Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.
Grilled Salmon and Veggies
3 large bell peppers (use a variety of colors), trimmed, cut into 1-in. pieces
2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half, lengthwise, and then cut into ½-in. half-moons
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into 1-in. pieces
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ripe, Fresh California Avocado, seeded, peeled, and cut into ¾-in. pieces
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Six 6-oz. salmon fillets, skinned
- Preheat the grill to medium high.
- Place the peppers, zucchini, and onion in a large bowl and stir to combine.
- Stir in the olive oil, salt, and a few cranks of pepper until the vegetables are well coated with the oil.
- Transfer to a large metal grilling basket.
- Place the basket on the grill and close the lid. Open the lid carefully every 5 minutes, stir the vegetables, and then close the lid again. Cook until golden and tender (20 to 25 minutes).
- Season the salmon with salt and pepper.
- Once the vegetables have cooked for about 15 minutes, place the salmon on the grill and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes per side.
- When the vegetables are cooked, transfer to a large serving bowl and cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, squeeze 2 of the lime wedges over the avocado.
- Gently stir the avocado pieces into the cooked vegetables.
- Remove avocado from refrigerator and place a dollop on top of each piece of salmon.
- Serve salmon with the grilled vegetable/avocado mixture, remaining lime wedges, and additional sauce on the side.
Serving Suggestion: Serve with rice pilaf or another favorite grain such as farro or quinoa.
Beverage Pairing: Add a bubbly beverage to this dinner extravaganza such as seltzer mixed with cranberry juice or Prosecco.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 460; Total Fat 26 g (Sat 4 g, Trans 0 g, Poly 7 g, Mono 13 g); Cholesterol 110 mg; Sodium 300 mg; Potassium 1700 mg; Total Carbohydrates 17 g; Dietary Fiber 7 g; Total Sugars 6 g; Protein 43 g; Vitamin A 1744 IU; Vitamin C 124 mg; Calcium 93 mg; Iron 2.7 mg; Vitamin D 0 IU; Folate 151 mcg; Omega 3 Fatty Acid 4.2 g
% Daily Value*: Vitamin A 35%; Vitamin C 210%; Calcium 10%; Iron 15 %
Grilled Veggies (with avocado) only
Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 100; Total Fat 6 g (Sat 1 g, Trans 0 g, Poly 1 g, Mono 4 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 190 mg; Potassium 460 mg; Total Carbohydrates 10 g; Dietary Fiber 4 g; Total Sugars 4 g; Protein 2 g; Vitamin A 1552 IU; Vitamin C 116 mg; Calcium 23 mg; Iron 0.8 mg; Vitamin D 0 IU; Folate 62 mcg; Omega 3 Fatty Acid 0.1 g
% Daily Value*: Vitamin A 30%; Vitamin C 190%; Calcium 2%; Iron 4%