Monounsaturated Fat Sources and Benefits

foods high in monounsaturated fats
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Monounsaturated fats are considered to be "good" fats alongside polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature but begin to thicken when chilled.

By contrast, saturated and trans fats—both of which are regarded as "bad" fats—will remain solid at room temperature. These fats can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by promoting the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels. For this reason, many health experts recommend that we replace saturated and trans fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fats come from plant sources and can provide health benefits to the body, especially when consumed in place of less healthy fats such as saturated fat or trans fat.

Structure

Monounsaturated fats, also known as monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs, differ from saturated fats in their molecular structure. The prefix "mono" refers to the fact that they only have one double bond in the fatty acid chain. Double bonds are simply the bond between pairs of electrons and atoms that are harder to break.

As a rule, the fewer double bonds there are in the fatty acid chain, the higher the melting point. With only one double bond, monounsaturated fats have a lower viscosity (thickness) and a higher melting point, meaning they turn liquid at lower temperatures.

By contrast, saturated fats have double bonds at every link in the chain, resulting in a low melting point and high viscosity.

Polyunsaturated fats have fewer double bonds than saturated fats but more that monounsaturated fats, placing them somewhere in between in terms of both their structure and physical properties.

Trans fats, also known as trans-unsaturated fatty acids, are artificially produced oils in which hydrogen is added to create more double bonds.

Health Benefits

Monounsaturated fats aid in good health in several ways. Monounsaturated fats aid in cell regulation and contain high levels of vitamin D (a hormone that regulates calcium levels), builds stronger bones, and supports immune function.

There has been substantial research into the benefits of monounsaturated fat in the diet.

Heart Disease

The National Institutes of Health reports that monounsaturated fats can help decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood. Keeping your LDL level low reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke.

A large review of studies also confirmed that diets higher in MUFAs are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. The report's authors suggest that guidelines should be provided for intake of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat intake.

Other published reports suggest that consumers should be advised about the health benefits of plant and marine sources of unsaturated fats (such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) so that intake is increased and risk for cardiovascular disease is decreased.

Diabetes

A study published in Diabetes Care compared the effects of a calorie controlled high-monounsaturated fatty acid diet and low-fat high-carbohydrate diet on body weight and glycemic control in men and women with type 2 diabetes. They found that both diets provided comparable beneficial effects on body weight, body composition, cardiovascular risk factors, and glycemic control. Researchers concluded that the high MUFA diet could be considered an alternative to a low-fat high carb diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have determined that diets high in monounsaturated fats provide benefits for people with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Other Lifestyle Factors

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the role of monounsaturated fat in the lifestyle habits of young adults. The compared two groups of men and women in their 20s and 30s who ate diets either high in saturated fat (a typical Western diet) or high in monounsaturated fat (a Mediterranean diet). They found that the diet high in monounsaturated fat was associated with less anger, better overall mood, increased physical activity. They also benefited from an increase in resting energy expenditure.

Research studies have found that consumption of a diet that includes monounsaturated fats can help to decrease risk of heart disease, provide benefits for people with diabetes, and is even associated with improved mood and increased physical activity levels.

Sources

Monounsaturated fats come from primarily from plant sources, such as nuts and seeds. Keep in mind, however, that many foods provide more than one kind of fat. For example, olive oil contains monounsaturated fat (73 percent), polyunsaturated fat (10.5 percent), and saturated fat (14 percent). As a basis for comparison, butter contains about 21 percent monounsaturated fat.

To ensure a healthier intake of fats, look for foods with a high percentage of monounsaturated fats. These include:

  • High oleic sunflower (84 percent)
  • Hazelnut oil (78 percent)
  • Avocado oil (72 percent)
  • Macadamia nuts (59 percent)
  • Olive oil (73 percent)
  • Hazelnuts (77 percent)
  • Avocados (71 percent)
  • Almonds (70 percent)
  • Canola oil (59 percent)
  • Pecans (59 percent)
  • Peanuts (46 percent)
  • Peanut oil (46 percent)

While regular sunflower and safflower oils are not good sources of monounsaturated fat, some of these seeds have been specially bred to increase their monounsaturated content. These oils will usually be labeled "high-oleic" safflower or sunflower oil and can contain up to 84 percent monounsaturated fat.

Foods usually contain more than one type of fat. For example, olive oil contains monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat. Foods highest in monounsaturated fat tend to come from plant sources.

Recommended Intake

While consumers have avoided fat for years, it has become increasingly apparent that the type of fat, not just the total amount of fat, makes a big difference in overall health.

We need fat in our diets to support important body functions. Many vitamins, for example, need fat in order to be dissolved and absorbed into the intestines. Dietary fat also helps keep hair and skin healthy, insulates the body, and protects the internal organs.

Therefore, the focus and recommendations regarding fat have shifted. Many health organizations now propose that fat shouldn't be considered bad, only the excess consumption of fat, specifically less healthy types of fat.

There is no specific recommendation provided for monounsaturated fat. Rather the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that we adopt healthy eating patterns that limit saturated and trans fats.

Other health organizations around the world have provided some guidelines for intake of MUFAs as a percentage of total daily calorie intake. Most provide a recommendation for monounsaturated fat intake in the 10 percent to 20 percent range.

There are some guidelines that can help you make healthy decisions regarding fats to include to limit in your diet. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  • Avoid all trans fats.
  • Limit daily intake of healthy fat to 20 percent to 35 percent from all sources, including food and oils.
  • Limit your intake of oils to 27 grams per day or roughly five tablespoons.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. These include butter and beef fat as well as certain plant-based oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil.
  • Limit saturated fats to less than seven percent of your total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be 140 calories or 16 grams of saturated fats per day.

Lastly, remember that all fats provide nine calories per gram, whether they are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated. Protein and carbohydrate provide four calories per gram. If you are trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight, it is important to keep total calorie intake in mind as you choose foods to include in your diet.

While there is no specific guideline for the specific intake of monounsaturated fat, current USDA guidelines suggest that we adopt a healthy eating pattern that limits consumption of saturated and trans fat in favor of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils.

Calculating Your Fat Intake

To determine your specific fat intake range in grams, you'll need to do a little bit of math.

First, multiply the number of calories you consume each day by 20 and then by 35 percent. This is your target fat calorie range. For example, an adult who consumes 2,000 calories per day would have a target fat calorie range of 400 to 700 calories.

Once you have a calorie range, you can determine the target number of fat grams. Since fat contains nine calories per gram, divide the fat-calorie target numbers by nine to determine your daily fat grams.

For a 2,000-calorie diet, the recommended daily fat intake would be between 44 to 78 grams. Remember, this is the target amount from all fat sources, not just monounsaturated fat.

To ensure that you remain well within your daily target, pay extra close attention to food nutrition labels when shopping. Or plan in advance by running your shopping list through a handy online nutrition calculator. You can even use it when preparing recipes to calculate the percentage of fat and saturated fat per serving in relation to the total calories.

Choosing healthy forms of fat, like monounsaturated fat, will help you to stay full and satiated throughout the day and enjoy satisfying meals while gaining health benefits for long-term health.

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Article Sources
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