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What Are Monounsaturated Fats?

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 03, 2021

When it comes to your diet, all fats aren’t created equally. There are good fats and bad fats. It’s important to get more of the good fats like monounsaturated fats and avoid the bad fats that put you at risk for health conditions.

Understanding Fat

Fats get an unfair rap for being bad for you. Fat is a type of nutrient that gives you energy and, in moderation, is part of a healthy diet. There are four kinds of fat, and each one contains nine calories per gram. Fat helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats are saturated or unsaturated, and you’re likely to see both kinds of fat on nutrition labels.

Saturated fat. This type of fat is solid at room temperature. It comes mostly in animal foods like milk, cheese, and meat. Poultry and fish contain lower saturated fat content than red meat. Saturated fat is also found in oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.

Recipes that use butter or margarine have high amounts of saturated fat and may raise your bad cholesterol levels. To maintain a healthy diet, you should keep saturated fat calories to less than 10% of your daily calories.‌

Trans fat. This type of fat is changed during hydrogenation, a process that lengthens the shelf life of food. Trans fat is also considered a bad fat that raises your cholesterol, so you should limit it in your diet. Foods that contain trans fat include:

  • Processed foods
  • Snack foods like chips and crackers
  • Cookies‌
  • Some kinds of margarine and salad dressings‌‌

Unsaturated fat. This type of fat is liquid at room temperature, and there are two different types: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. These primarily come from the oil in plants. Where bad fats increase your bad cholesterol levels, unsaturated fats help lower them. They're mostly found in oils from plants.

Monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) work in two ways to improve your cholesterol. They lower your bad cholesterol levels, also called LDL cholesterol. They also help to raise your HDL good cholesterol levels.

You'll find monounsaturated fats in:

  • Avocado
  • Canola oil‌
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil

Polyunsaturated fat. This type of fat is primarily found in vegetable oils, like: 

  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil 
  • Sesame oil
  • Soybean oil‌
  • Corn oil

It’s also found in seafood and is commonly called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. When you consume polyunsaturated fat, it also works to lower your bad cholesterol levels while it raises your good cholesterol levels.

Keep in mind that when you see “ total fat” listed on nutrition labels, it’s a combination of all four types of fat. You can read further to see the content of each type of fat.

Monounsaturated Fats in Your Diet

Monounsaturated fats benefit your health by lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also offer vital nutrients like vitamin E that have antioxidant properties and help your body maintain and renew cells.

Because all fats contain the same number of calories, it all comes down to the benefits and risks to your health. When you limit saturated fats and increase your intake of unsaturated fats, you can improve your overall health and lower risks. Keep in mind that you still want to impose limits on the amount of fat you eat, even when it’s the healthy fats.

Maintaining a Heart Healthy Diet

Read food labels. The best way to make changes in your diet is to know what you’re putting in your body. Always read nutrition labels and don’t assume that foods are healthy. Follow serving size recommendations to make sure you don’t take in more fat than you realize.

Make substitutions. There are many ways you can enjoy foods you love while cutting out the extra fat. If you drink whole milk, switch to 2%, 1%, or even fat-free milk. Make the same choices when shopping for other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt. When you can choose meats, opt for leaner cuts, seafood, or smaller portions. You can also substitute ingredients in dishes for vegetables and whole grains when possible.‌

Ideas for breakfast. Trade out your cream cheese on a bagel for oatmeal. Add in a spoonful of flaxseed for an added boost of omega-3 to start your day. Replace a high-fat creamer in your coffee with real cream, milk, or a dairy-free option.‌

Ideas for lunch. Instead of using condiments or dressings on your salads and sandwiches, add avocado. It offers a creamy texture along with monounsaturated fats your body needs. Chop up some skinless chicken as a salad topping in place of bacon.

Ideas for dinner. Grind nuts and treat them as a breading or garnish for your seafood. It offers a crunch with heart-healthy benefits. Cook your fish in canola or olive oil instead of butter and skip sauces with a cream base.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Monounsaturated Fat.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Quick, Easy Ways to Get Good Fats Into Your Diet.”

University of Michigan Medicine: “Types of Fats.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Edition.”

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