What are monounsaturated fats and why do doctors encourage you to eat their foods?

Monounsaturated fat is a type of healthy unsaturated fat that exists in your diet. The other healthy dietary fat is polyunsaturated fat.

Eating these healthy unsaturated fats and replacing the saturated fats and the trans fats with these unsaturated fats is a fit choice that decreases your chances of heart disease and other health problems and offers a range of health benefits. Saturated fats and trans fats are the bad fats and negatively affect your health.

At room temperature, monounsaturated fats or fatty acids (MUFAs) are in a liquid state but solidify when chilled. They have only one double bond in the fatty acid chain with all the remainder carbon atoms having a single bond.

There are different types of monounsaturated fats. Oleic acid is the most common, comprising around 90% of the MUFAs present in your dietary foods. Other commonly seen MUFAs include palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.

Food sources

Monounsaturated fats are mainly found in plant foods, such as

  • nuts,
  • avocados, and
  • vegetable oils.

Other sources include

  • red meat,
  • whole milk products, and
  • high-fat fruits such as olives.

More sources include

  • olive oil (about 75% monounsaturated fat),
  • canola oil and
  • cashews (both contain about 58% monounsaturated fat),
  • avocado oil,
  • grape seed oil,
  • peanut oil (groundnut oil),
  • sesame oil,
  • corn oil,
  • whole grain wheat,
  • whole-grain cereal,
  • oatmeal, almond oil, and
  • sunflower oil (85% monounsaturated fat).

Health benefits

All fats including monounsaturated fats are high in calories. They provide 9 calories per gram. Therefore, you should exercise moderation when consuming them.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that you get 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat. You should get these calories from unsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs) rather than saturated fats.

You should, therefore, aim at consuming unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) replacing other saturated and trans fatty foods. These good fats form a central part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

MUFAs help lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and the plasma triglycerides in the blood and increase HDL, the good cholesterol. They, therefore, keep your lipid profile healthy, which helps to keep the heart healthy and significantly lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.

This is because it is bad cholesterol (LDL), which can clog the arteries with the cholesterol plaques. This is called atherosclerosis and it reduces blood supply to the heart, brain, and other parts of the body. Reduced blood supply to the heart and brain can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Reduction in the LDL blood levels, therefore, promotes better function of the blood vessels and better blood flow. This helps to regulate your blood pressure.

 MUFAs also contribute to increasing insulin sensitivity, which helps in better uptake of blood glucose by the body cells. This helps to better control the blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats provide the body with vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin, which helps in keeping your skin healthy.

These fats are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. This helps to preserve a healthy vision, effective functioning nervous system, and good brain development. 

MUFAs help you in losing weight and belly fat. These fats form a significant part of the flat-belly diet. You will see this effect when you replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats help to increase your basal metabolic rate stimulating your body to burn fat quicker. They will help keep you feeling full and keep your hunger satisfied longer.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats, especially olive oil, may also help reduce cancer risk and inflammation. 

Recommended daily intake

The food that we eat provides us with a range of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, water, proteins, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber.

Each of these nutrients has a specific daily requirement quota. Broadly, on average, a woman needs to consume about 2000 calories per day to maintain her present body weight and an average man needs 2500 calories to maintain his current weight. How much of these calories should come from fats, more specifically unsaturated fats?

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, 20% to 35% of daily calories from your diet should come from fats, that is about 44 to 78 grams of all fats if you are following a 2000-calorie diet.

Of this, no more than 10% of your total daily calories come from saturated fats, which is about 22 grams. The rest can come from unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

However, it is always better to choose unsaturated fats (both MUFAs and PUFAs) because of their health benefits and restrict eating saturated and trans fats.

Plant-based foods and certain fish such as cod, herring, trout, tuna, and salmon are rich sources of unsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean, sunflower, sesame and cottonseed oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, olive oil, canola oil, and many nuts and seeds.