You probably have tons of questions about vegan fats.
What are they? Do I really need them as a healthy vegan?
If you have these questions, read and bookmark this article! As a dietitian and vegan, I’ve got alot to share with you about this topic.
Keep reading to level up your nutrition knowledge-veganized!
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Talk to your doctor before starting new supplements or making major dietary changes. See our Disclaimers for more details.
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This post was originally published on 5/27/22. The updated date is listed above.
What Are Fats? Do Vegans Need Them?
Dietary fat is a macronutrient. Like protein and carbohydrates (the other macronutrients), fat provides calories.
As mentioned in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 (DGA), the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (ADMR) for fats is 20-35% of total calories per day for non pregnant/non breastfeeding adults (ages 19+ years)(1).
Whether you are on a vegan diet or not, getting adequate fat is important for several reasons including(2):
- To aid in the absorption of certain fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K).
- Provides calories (and may contribute to satiety)
- Certain fats are important for brain function and our cell membranes.
- May provide other essential vitamins and minerals (depending on the type of fat).
So yes, fat is important for any diet, including a vegan one!
We went over why fats are important, but perhaps you are now asking, which ones? Can I get away with eating just any fat source? Lets discuss that next…
Types of Fat
The types of fat can be broken down into two umbrella types with several different fatty acids under them.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s) contain many unsaturated carbon bonds on a fat molecule.
PUFA’s have an important role in the structure of our cell membranes, functioning of the central nervous system, and may provide additional health benefits(3).
These healthy fats can be broken down into two groups: linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid) and α-linolenic acid (an omega 3 fatty acid)
These fats are considered essential fatty acids- meaning, we must consume enough for healthy functioning, as the body does not produce enough on its own(3).
Examples of vegan sources that contain essential omega 6 fatty acids include:
- sunflower oil
- cotton seed oil
Vegan sources of α-linolenic acid (that essential omega 3 fatty acid) include:
- ground flaxseeds
- chia seeds
Of the omega 3 fatty acids, we currently only have an AI (adequate intake) dietary reference for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which you can find here.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) a omega 3 fatty acid in particular, is also very concentrated in the retina which affects vision, and may provide other benefits as well(4).
You can get vegan DHA from algae based supplements. For more info about DHA, don’t miss my article about going fishless!
Vegan sources of monounsaturated fat are abundant in foods
- canola oil
This type of fat has one ( “mono”) unsaturated carbon bond on the fat molecule. Like polyunsaturated, they are often considered as healthier than trans or saturated fats.
Saturated fat are fatty acid chains (saturated) with single bonds.
High amounts of these fats are found in vegan foods like:
- palm oil
- vegan chocolate
- coconut products
Non vegan sources include meat, and dairy, with some in fish and eggs as well.
High amounts of saturated fat in the diet aren’t great for long term health or disease risk reduction.
In general, it’s important to view saturated fat in light of what you are replacing it with.
To illustrate this, lets look at what one study analyzing 2 large cohort studies(5). This study suggests that replacing saturated with unsaturated fat (in particular PUFAs) and/ what they described as “high quality carbohydrates (such as whole grains) or may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
A large systematic review and metanalysis from the World Health Organization suggests that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or slowly digest carbohydrates (high fiber containing carbs) may is the healthier choice (6).
While healthier substitutions are a better choice, and it’s important to note that saturated fat is a bit nuanced.
The stearic acid (found in cocoa butter, which is used in making chocolate for instance) may have a neutral affect on LDL (the “bad” type of cholesterol) when compared to other types of saturated fats according to some research (7).
However, most foods are not made up of just one type of fat- including chocolate!
So if you are trying to make healthier choices consider replacing saturated fat with something that’s better for you! In general, substituting poly or monounsaturated fats, and whole grains, may be more healthier choice for reducing heart disease risk.
The 2020-2025 DGA’s suggest s they be limited to less than 10% of total calories per day.
In general, a trans fats should be avoided as far as possible (as long as the diet is nutritionally sound without it). Partially Hydrogenated oils (artificial trans fat) are not recognized as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the FDA as of 2015(8).
If you see “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” oils listed, know that artificial trans fat may be present.
Hydrogenation helps the keep preserve the fat for longer, however trans fats have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease(9).
They tend to raise bad cholesterol levels (low density lipoproteins) so it’s healthier to avoid them if possible.
Vegan versions of these products might contain trans fats (double check the nutrition facts):
- Vegan ice cream
- Microwaveable popcorn
Vegan Fat Sources (15 Examples)
FYI: This is not a comprehensive list of all vegan fat sources. Fat content amounts are examples only (they don’t cover every brand, flavor, etc). Approximate fat content was based on information provided at FoodData Central and rounded up (unless I used a brand as an example). Check the nutrition facts label to find out the fat content.
It’s also important to keep in mind that most foods contain some amount of fat. We are just listing the vegan sources that are particularly concentrated in fat below.
Some of these are healthier than others. I’m just trying to keep things inclusive with this list! 👌
Without further ado: here’s a quick list of 15 vegan fat sources:
- nuts and nut butters
- seeds and seed butters
- Tofu (firmer varieties in particular)
- cacao nibs
- vegan cheese
- chips (vegan ones)
- vegan ice cream
- granola (without animal products)
- vegan mayo
Nuts and Nut Butters
- Fat Content (in grams): English Walnuts( 1 ounce): 18.5 grams; Almond Butter (1 Tablespoon): 9 grams;
- Nutrition Highlights: Nuts are often touted as one of the most healthy fats you can consume! There is a good deal of research to support the benefits of nuts consumption including their antioxidant activity(10), and potential to impact certain health related conditions(11).
As mentioned before, walnuts also are unique in that they provide a higher amounts of ALA in comparison to other common nuts.
Seeds and Seed Butters
- Nutrition Highlights: Nutritional content will depend on the type of seed. As mentioned earlier, those notable in the essential omega 3 fatty acid (ALA) include ground flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
- Fat Content (in grams): 1 avocado (201 grams): 29.5 grams of fat.
- Nutrition Highlights: In addition to the plethora of monounsaturated fat, avocadoes also contain lots of Nutrition: Avocados provide lots of fiber and potassium. These are two nutrients of public health concern per the 2020-2025 DGAs(1).
- Fat Content: Canned Olives, 100 grams: 11 grams of fat
- Nutritional Highlights: This fruit boosts a hefty dose of monounsaturated fat. Watching your sodium intake? Be aware that olives are often packaged in sodium laden brine-so keep your serving/total dietary intake in mind.
Tofu (Firmer Varieties in Particular)
- Fat Content: 100 grams of raw tofu prepared with calcium sulfate: 5 grams of fat (FYI: Depending on the firmness, fat content will vary for tofu, for example, silken (or soft) tofu tends to contain less fat than firm tofu).
- Nutritional Highlights: Tofu contains a wide variety of nutrients that may be more tricky for some on a vegan diet. They include choline, lysine (an amino acid), and calcium (when prepared with calcium salts-check the label).
- Nutritional Highlights: Oils typically contain about the same calories per tablespoon, but their fat profiles vary widely! For example, coconut oil contains more saturated fat than olive oil, while flaxseed oil is notable for it’s ALA fat content.
- Fat Content: 1/2 cup shredded coconut: 13.5 grams
- Nutritional Highlights: Saturated fat makes up most of this nuts lipid profile. Coconut “meat” also contains a decent amount of important dietary components like selenium and fiber.
- Fat Content: Per a 43 gram serving of Dark Chocolate (World Market): 17 grams of fat
- Nutritional Highlights: Sure, vegan dark chocolate contains flavonoids (an antioxidant) magnesium, and iron. But be aware does contain a large amount of saturated fat (and sometimes sugar). Find out more about what you should know about chocolate as a vegan in our article here!
Currently I am really enjoying Beyond Good’s Salted Caramel organic vegan chocolate as a treat! (insert picture of me with said chocolate):
It has little chunks of vegan caramel that’s not goopy (not a fan of the goopy caramel, anyone else?)
Check it out here! (*affiliate link) (As a reminder, this means that if you click on the link and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you)):
- Fat Content: Per 14 gram serving: 5 grams of fat
- Nutritional Highlights: Take a cocoa bean, crush it up into small pieces, and you’ve got cacao nibs! They come with a decent dose of plant based fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. Be aware that about half of the total fat content is saturated.
- Fat Content: 5 grams per on 22 gram slice of Daiya cheddar slices.
- Nutritional Highlights: Depending on the product, nutrients might be added, such as the addition of vitamin B12 fortification (check the nutrition facts!) .
Chips (Vegan Ones)
- Fat Content: 5 grams of fat per about 22 pieces of Harvest Snaps lightly salted baked green peas snacks(*affiliate link)
- Nutritional Highlights: Chips can be as nutrient poor as they come! I do appreciate that the ones I mentioned above at least have a bit of fiber (about 4 grams per serving) and protein (around 5 grams per serving(12)) to make it a bit more filling!
Vegan Ice Cream
- Fat Content: 12 grams per 1/2 cup serving of Cado Mint Chocolate chip non dairy icecream
- Nutritional Highlights: Vegan ice creams probably aren’t going to be very nutrient dense, but they make a nice treat! I love that Cado’s mint chocolate chip and deep dark chocolate flavor (*affiliate link) use some avocado puree in to make theirs extra creamy!
Granola (Without Animal Products)
- Fat Content: 10 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving of Nature’s Path Love Crunch Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Granola (*affiliate link).
- Nutritional Highlights: Granola varies widely based on what’s in it! Most have oats as the base, but what adds much of the fat typically comes from oil, nuts, and other fun mix ins (the one pictured above also has little chocolate pieces).
- Fat Content: 16 grams per two tablespoon serving (13)
- Nutritional Highlights: Tahini is just ground sesame seed that makes a nice spread on falafels buddah bowls, and more! Besides providing healthier fats, sesame seeds contribute a decent amount of plant based calcium!
- Fat Content: 9 grams of fat per 1 tablespoon serving for Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise (*affiliate link). The fat content will vary depending on type and brand.
- Nutritional Highlights: Depending on the product, the fats used may vary, but usually come from some type of oil. The seed oils will have less saturated fat than tropical oils (ie: palm and coconut oils).
I love that the Follow Your Heart brand uses oils with predominantly unsaturated fats instead (and tastes great if you want that mayo like taste!)
In Summary: Vegan Fats
There are plenty of ways to meet your essential fat needs as a vegan!
Familiarize yourself with the sources of essential fats linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), found in vegan sources like nuts, and alpha-linolenic acid (abundant ground flaxseeds, and walnuts for example), and make sure you are getting an adequate amount.
In general, trans fats should be avoided. Many health professionals agree that saturated fats should be reduced and replaced with healthier alternatives (like poly or monounsaturated fat or whole grains) in the context of a healthy diet.
If you have any questions about your dietary fat needs, reach out to your health care provider.
We hope this article helped to clear up some confusion about vegan fat sources! Now that you’ve expanded your list of vegan fats beyond extra virgin olive oil, let me know what your favorite recipes are using healthy fats in the comments below!
If you would like to learn more about keeping things plant based, why not explore our blog? We discuss other topics like High Calorie Vegan Food and Dietitian Selected Plant Based Diet Books.
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