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Just like there are varying types of amino acids and glucose molecules, there are also different types of fatty acids such as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), saturated fatty acids (SFAs), and trans fats. (1)
Fats are part of the three main macronutrients necessary for health and maintenance of human function. Each of these macronutrients is composed of smaller molecules such as amino acids for protein, glucose for carbohydrates, and fatty acids for fats.
In the body, fatty acids play many functions ranging from building cells and providing energy to cell signaling. (1)
Each of these fatty acids plays a different role in the body, and though SFAs and trans fats increase the risk of diseases, monounsaturated fatty acids have special beneficial properties for health. (2)
Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
If you are wondering how a fat can actually help your health, read on to know more.
1. Reduce risks of heart diseases
Heart or cardiovascular diseases account for the majority of mortality around the world and they are often accompanied by high lipid levels and improper insulin activity. (3)
2. Reduces obesity
It seems unbelievable that a type of fatty acid may help with reducing weight and its possible complications, but monounsaturated fatty acids can actually help.
Over the years, many studies have evaluated the role of monounsaturated fatty acids in reducing weight gain. A more recent study found a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids to be more effective than a low-carbohydrate diet in bringing about weight loss. (4)
It is important to remember that monounsaturated fatty acids should be included in the total amount of fats in the diet.
3. Improved cholesterol levels
The ability of monounsaturated fatty acids to modulate cholesterol levels can affect outcomes of heart diseases.
A large study observed monounsaturated fatty acids to improve lipid levels and reduce coronary heart disease risk. (5)
Another recent study reported intake of monounsaturated fatty acids oils improved HDL (good cholesterol) levels but did not negatively affect the levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, or LDL (bad cholesterol). (6)
4. Improves insulin sensitivity
Monounsaturated fatty acids can also improve the insulin sensitivity of the body’s cells and reduce blood sugar levels.
Animal studies found when monounsaturated fatty acids replaced saturated fatty acids, they improved the insulin sensitivity of rats fed a high-fat diet, while some other studies showed no effect on insulin resistance but improved fasting levels of insulin. (7)
Either way, monounsaturated fatty acids can be a better choice of fats as part of the diet.
5. Reduces inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to foreign bodies and stimuli in an attempt to heal the body.
Chronic long-term inflammation can be very harmful to health and can lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, arthritis, and joint diseases, allergies, and even lung diseases. (8) The good news is diet can play a beneficial role in bringing down this inflammation and improving disease outcomes.
Studies have found monounsaturated fatty acids to be a better choice for fats as compared to saturated fatty acids or polyunsaturated fatty acids in reducing inflammatory responses in the body. (9)
For instance, olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal, which has a similar anti-inflammatory property to low-strength ibuprofen, and daily consumption may benefit overall health. (10)
Food Sources of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs)
Plant-based oils obtained from olives, canola, sunflower, sesame, and peanuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Nuts such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and macadamia are also abundant in monounsaturated fatty acids. (11)
Make sure you include these foods in your daily diet in moderate amounts to benefit health.
Precautions to Consider
It is important to remember that at the end of the day, monounsaturated fatty acids are still fats. And just like any other food source, overconsumption of monounsaturated fatty acids can be harmful to health.
Fats are also directly responsible for weight gain, especially if eaten in large amounts. Make sure your monounsaturated fatty acids intake is consumed as part of your daily fat intake.
Most-Asked Questions About Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
How much monounsaturated fatty acids should I consume in a day?
Monounsaturated fatty acids should ideally comprise 15%–20% of your total daily calorie intake.
Can I cook using oils rich in monounsaturated fatty acids?
Oils high in monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil and canola oil should be used for light cooking such as sautéing or pan frying. Do not use high-temperature cooking methods such as baking or deep frying on MUFA-rich oils.
Are monounsaturated fatty acids better than polyunsaturated fatty acids?
Both monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids and play a similar role in the body when it comes to lowering bad cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart diseases. Including food sources of both types of fat is a good practice.
Omega-3 fatty acids (in walnuts, fatty fish, and Brazil nuts) are sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Is coconut oil a monounsaturated fatty acid or polyunsaturated fatty acid?
Coconut oil is a saturated fatty acid (SFA).
Which oil has the highest monounsaturated fatty acids?
Sunflower oil contains 85% monounsaturated fatty acids, while olive and canola oil have 75% and 58% each.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are one of the types of fatty acids obtained from fats.
While it is ideal to consume a variety of fat sources and fatty acids for maximum benefit to health, some types of fatty acids such as saturated or polyunsaturated can be harmful to health if they are the only type of fat being incorporated in the diet.