Fats, once considered by the fad dieters of the 1980s as worthy of shunning altogether, have been a topic of debate in more recent years. Saturated fats, trans fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—all of these types of fats have gotten a lot of press lately. Myths have been debunked, foods once considered worthy of total avoidance have been exonerated, and research has shown that one type of fat in particular may be worthy of receiving a gold star all its own for its health benefits: monounsaturated fats.
What is monounsaturated fat?
Monounsaturated fat is so named because of its molecular makeup: it contains a solitary carbon bond that is non-saturated—hence the moniker, “ monounsaturated fat.” These fats are usually plant-based oils that are liquid when tepid or hot but may congeal and thicken somewhat when refrigerated.i
How is monounsaturated fat different from other types of fats?
There are four different types of classifications that fats may fall into. Each one comes from different sources, and some are considered better or worse for your health than others. Let’s take a look at these different fat types and how they differ from monounsaturated fats.
The natural source of trans fats is in animal products, like meats and dairy foods. However, trans fats can also be artificially created as a means of making plant-based oils congeal into a solid state at room temperature by adding extra hydrogen to the oils.ii This process can create products like solid vegetable oil spreads, once touted by marketing teams as being healthier than the saturated fats found in the butter it replaced. Many trans-fat-free versions of these spreads are now available and gaining popularity. One reason these trans fats are potential health hazards when consumed in large amounts is due to their effect on blood cholesterol—raising the “ bad” number while lowering the “ good” number.
Animal products such as butter, dairy products, and fatty meats are all sources of saturated fats. Certain plant-based oils also contain saturated fat, such as coconut oil. However, unlike its animal-based counterparts, coconut oil does not contain dietary cholesterol. These animal-based saturated fats, when included in your diet in large amounts, can raise “ bad” cholesterol numbers and pose a health risk. iii
Polyunsaturated fat is one of the “ good guys” of the four fat types. Found in fatty fish (trout and salmon) and certain plant-based oils (sunflower and soybean oil, for example), these fats help with cholesterol maintenance and promote a healthy vascular system, reducing the risk of stroke or heart attack in people for whom it is a regular part of their diet.iv
What are the specific benefits of monounsaturated fats?
Monounsaturated fats deserve their own round of applause for helping people live healthy lives, as they support whole-body health in a variety of different ways:
Monounsaturated fats can promote a healthy heart by keeping the blood that pumps through it healthy. Both mono- and polyunsaturated fat types can help lower the risk of having a heart attack or suffering a stroke when they are used in lieu of less healthy trans fats and animal-based saturated fats.
Improvement and prevention of metabolic syndromevvi
Metabolic syndrome is a condition that includes several noteworthy health risks combined together in one person’s body (large waistline, low “ good” blood cholesterol, and raised blood triglycerides) and places people at a higher risk of succumbing to heart disease or diabetes. Diets that include monounsaturated fats in significant amounts (particularly when paired with diets high in lean proteins) can help improve existing metabolic syndrome and can help prevent it from taking root in those whose medical or family history might put them at greater risk of developing this syndrome.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can also aid in diabetes control. Eating these oils helps to promote glucose-insulin regulation in the body, and can help protect a diabetic person’s damaged pancreas by reducing the negative impact of things like glucose spikes or palmitate. Palmitates serve to disrupt pancreatic functioning in diabetic people by impairing the pancreas’ability to grow or replicate beta cells, which are crucial to pancreatic function. By reducing the negative effects of palmitate or spikes in glucose levels, diets sufficiently rich in monounsaturated fats can protect people from certain diabetes-linked health issues.
Reduction of blood cholesterol levelsix
Monounsaturated fat, along with polyunsaturated fat, works to do the opposite of what trans fats do. Monounsaturated fat can help lower “ bad” cholesterol and increase “ good” cholesterol numbers. This helping hand with cholesterol control can prevent the need for use of medications like statin drugs for cholesterol management.
Weight loss and maintenance
People who struggle with obesity may find that replacing saturated fats and trans fats with unsaturated fats, such as mono-or-polyunsaturated fats, could aid in weight loss. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats tend to be not only very healthy, but also very filling, which could lead to a reduction in daily calorie consumption if those foods are incorporated into daily eating.
Which foods are rich in monounsaturated fats?
Consider adding more of the following foods to your daily diet if you would like to reap the benefits of monounsaturated fatsx:
- Olive oil
- Seeds and nuts
- Sesame oil
- Peanut oil
- Safflower oil
- Canola oil
The bottom line
Reducing the number of trans fats and saturated fats ingested and upping the number of plant-based fats consumed may help people with weight maintenance, vascular health, diabetes control and blood cholesterol levels. Consider adding more monounsaturated fats to your diet could help to keep your health on target. Adopting a Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, and using a small amount of olive oil or canola oil in place of an animal fat like lard or butter could go a long way toward living a happier, healthier life.xi