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Healing Foods Pyramid

Healing Foods Pyramid™

Healthy Fats Image

Healthy Fats are included in the Healing Foods Pyramid™ as part of a balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet. This Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.

What are the recommended servings per day?

What are the different types of healthy fats and oils?

Why choose healthy fats like MUFA and omega-3s?

Why limit saturated fats, trans-fats and omega-6 fatty acids?

Selected Sources of MUFA with Serving Sizes
(Listed highest to lowest MUFA content)

(serving size:

1 tsp)

(serving size)

(serving size)

Butters (serving size)

(serving size)

Olive oil
Canola oil
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
Walnut oil
Soybean oil
Flaxseed oil
Grape seed oil
Mustard oil

Hazelnuts (5)
(5 halves)
Almonds (7)
Cashews (6)
Pistachios (17)
Brazil nuts (2)
Peanuts (9)
Pine nuts (50)
(4 halves)

Sesame seeds
(1 Tbsp)
Pumpkin seeds
(47 seeds)
Ground flaxseed
(1 Tbsp)
Sunflower seeds
(3 Tbsp)

Almond butter
(½ Tbsp)
Cashew butter
(½ Tbsp)
Peanut butter
(½ Tbsp)
Tahini/sesame paste (2 tsp)
Sunflower seed butter
(2 tsp)

(2 Tbsp or 1 oz)
Black olives (8)
Green olives (10)

Selected Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
(listed highest to lowest omega-3 content)

(serving size : 1 teaspoon)

Nuts and seeds
(serving size)

Flaxseed oil*

Flaxseeds (1 Tbsp)

Walnut oil

Walnuts (4 halves)

Canola oil

Pecans (5 halves)

Soybean oil

Pine nuts (50)

*Should be consumed raw and not used in cooking

Although some of the omega-3s from plant sources alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) do convert into the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), this conversion process is inefficient. Therefore, while plant sources of omega-3s do confer some anti-inflammatory benefits, the impact is likely not as potent as EPA and DHA from animal sources. (Please visit the Fish & Seafood section for more information about other sources of omega-3 fatty acids.) 

Flaxseed Facts

Flaxseeds are an oilseed just like canola and sunflower are oilseeds. Research has found that flax seeds in the diet have anti-inflammatory properties, help regulate blood sugar, and contribute to reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Specific Considerations

Calorie-controlled high-MUFA diets:

What is the daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids?

There are currently no established guidelines regarding optimal omega-3 intake. According to the Institute of Medicine, the Adequate Intake (AI) is 1.1g daily for women and 1.6 g daily for men. However, some experts believe that these recommendations might be too low to obtain the health benefits associated with omega-3s. Research shows benefits associated with higher intake of 2-3 g per day. The American Heart Association recommends 1-3 g per day for individuals to achieve the heart healthy benefits and reduce the risk of Coronary Heart Disease.

Why is your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio important?

Two types of fatty acids that are essential for human health are omega-3 and omega-6. Studies suggest that decreasing the ratio of omega-6 (in vegetable oils) to omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish and some vegetable oils) is important to reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory conditions, and depression.

Most people consume too many omega-6 fatty acids and consume too little omega-3 fatty acids. The average intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet is about 20:1. To reduce your risk of chronic disease, reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Research suggests that a ratio of 4:1 is recommended for cardiovascular benefits and a ratio of 2:1 is recommended for decreasing risk of some cancers.

Know Your Limits for Fat

Ideas to Balance Your Fat Consumption
  1. All foods containing fat have a mixture of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fatty acids. It is not feasible, nor desirable to try to eliminate one type of fatty acid from your diet.
  2. Choose salad dressings that use olive, canola, walnut or flaxseed oils as a base.
  3. Add avocados, nuts, or olives to salads instead of high saturated fat animal foods like cheese, butter and meat.
  4. For a snack, opt for a small handful of nuts/seeds each day in place of highly processed and high fat choices including chips, pastries, and cookies.
  5. Use olive and canola oils for most cooking. Peanut and sesame oils can be used in Asian cooking.
  6. To increase plant sources of omega-3s, choose walnuts, ground flaxseed and uncooked flaxseed oil.
  7. Flax seed oil is a delicious butter alternative. Try adding it to baked potatoes, cooked grains and vegetables.
  8. Add a tablespoon or two of ground flax seeds or flax meal to smoothies, muffins, bread or any other home-made baked item. 
  9. Never use oils, seeds or nuts after they begin to smell or taste rank or bitter. This is a sign that the oil has begun to turn rancid through a harmful oxidation process.
  10. For high temperature sautéing or frying, use oils with a high smoke point, like canola oil.
  11. Choose omega-3 enriched eggs, milk, cheese and meat from grass-fed beef, which contain more omega-3s than conventional varieties.
  12. Be wary of any foods deep fried in restaurants.  Deep fried foods may say “fried in vegetable oil”, but it is often hydrogenated vegetable oil.
  13. A food item may contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving but still reflect “0” grams of trans fat on its food label.  To ensure that the foods you eat are actually free of trans fat, check that hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are not listed as ingredients.
  14. Be aware: products are allowed to be labeled “trans-fat free” if there is less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, but the trans fat is still there. Check ingredient labels for the best information.



A Primer on Fats and Oils
American Dietetic Association
Accessed August 5, 2009

Face the Fats
Nutrition Action Health Letter, July/August 2002
Accessed August 5, 2009

Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
American Heart Association
Accessed August 5, 2009

Omega-3 and Food for Thought: How Do I Get Flax in My Diet
Dixon, Suzanne
Accessed August 5, 2009

Nutrition in 1 Ounce of Tree Nuts and Peanuts
International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation
Accessed August 5, 2009

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
University of Maryland Medical Center
Accessed August 5, 2009

Omega-3 Fats for Health and Well-Being
Karst, Karlene
Nutrition in Complementary Care:  a Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Assn. (DIFM Articles)
Accessed August 5, 2009

Questions and Answers about Trans Fat Nutrition Labeling
American Dietetic Association
Accessed August 5, 2009

Original Research and Review Articles

Beauchamp GK, et al. Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.  Nature.  2005;437:45-46

Blomhoff R, et al. Health benefits of nuts: potential role of antioxidants. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 96 (suppl); 52s-60s.

Calder PC.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammationProstaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 2006

Calder PC. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammatory processes and inflammatory bowel diseases. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. 2008; 52: 885-897.

Cetin I, et al. Long chain n – 3 fatty acid supply in pregnancy and lactation. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2008; 11: 297-302.

Chapkin RS, et al. Dietary docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acid: emerging mediators of inflammation. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 2009; doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2009.05.010

Davis, et al, Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  2003;78(suppl): 640s-6s.

De Caterina R, et al.  Nutritional mechanisms that influence cardiovascular disease.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  2006;83(suppl):421s-426s.

Ding H, et al. Chemopreventive characteristics of avocado fruit. Seminars in Cancer Biology. 2007; 17: 386-394.

Erkkila, et al.  Dietary fatty acids and cardiovascular disease; An epidemiological approachProgress in Lipid Research.  2008; 47 : 172-187.

Hibbeln JR, et al. Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006; 83(suppl): 1483s-93s.

Lombardo YB, et al.  Effects of dietary polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids on dyslipidemia and insulin resistance in rodents and humans.  A review.  Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.  2006;17:1-13.

Makrides, M. Outcomes for mothers and their babies: do n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and seafoods make a difference? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008; 108 (10): 1622-1626.

Odegaard AO, et al. Trans Fatty Acids, Insulin Resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes.  Nutrition Reviews.  2006; 64(8): 364-372.

Pan A, et al. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 90: 288-297.

Rees Am, et al. Omega-3 deficiency associated with perinatal depression: Case control study. Psychiatry Research. 2009; 166:254-259.

Ros E. Dietary cis-monosaturated fatty acids and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003; 78(suppl):617s-625s.

Ruano J, et al.  Phenolic content of virgin olive oil improves ischemic reactive hyperemia in hypercholesterolemic patients.  Journal of the American College of Cardiology.  2005; 46(10):1864-1868.

Simopoulos AP.  Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  1999; 70(suppl): 560s-569s.

Simopoulos AP.  Human requirement for n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Poultry Science.  2000; 79(7):961-970.

Simopoulos AP.  Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases.  Journal of the AmericanCollege of Nutrition.  2002; 21(6):495-505.

Simopoulos AP.  The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases.  Experimental Biology and Medicine2008; 223(6): 674-88.

Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy. 2002; 56:365-379.

Smith KM, et al. Relationship between fish intake, n-3 fatty acids, mercury and risk markers of CHD (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002). Public Health Nutrition. 2008; 12 (8): 1261-1269.

Tsubura A, et al.  Dietary factors modifying breast cancer risk and relation to time of intake.  Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia.  2005;10(1): 87-100.

Valensi P.  Hypertension, single sugars and fatty acids.  Journal of Human Hypertension.  2005; 19:5s-9s.

Webb AL, et al.  Dietary lignans:  potential role in cancer prevention.  Nutrition and Cancer.  2005;51(2): 117-131.

The Healing Foods Pyramid™ was created by the Nutrition Education Team at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine in 2005 and updated in 2009.

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