Monounsaturated fatty acids(MUFAs) are healthy fats that are liquid at room temperature. They are most commonly associated with plant-based foods including extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados and avocado oil, macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil, but they are also found in high concentrations in animal foods (including lard!)
These heart healthy-fats are a a staple in the Mediterranean diet and have been found have a wide variety of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fats
Before we look at the specific conditions these healthy fats have been found to benefit, lets take a look at what makes these fats unique:
- MUFAs Don’t Readily Oxidize: MUFAs are stable fats that contain only one double bond. This makes them much less prone to oxidation than their omega-6 cousins.
- MUFAs are Packaged with Potent Antioxidants: The foods rich in MUFAS also tend to be rich in antioxidants, minerals and phytonutrients, including magnesium, selenium, vitamin E and phenolic compounds, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin.
- MUFAs Reduce Inflammation: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined data from 690 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Researchers found that higher “diet quality” scores – particularly on the Mediterranean Diet Index – were associated with lower concentrations of markers for endothelial dysfunction (endothelial cells are those that line the interior surface of blood vessels) and inflammation.
Now let’s take a look at how these healthy fats can help prevent disease.
MUFAs Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
- The Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids was found to have the greatest positive effect on blood vessels dilation as well as reducing plasma levels of vascular cell-adhesion molecule.
- In 2005, Greek scientists studying more than 3,000 men and women found those eating a diet closest to the traditional Mediterranean diet (rich in MUFAs) had 19% lower oxidized LDL levels than those with the lowest adherence to the diet.
- A recent review in the journal Nutrition found that consumption of 50 –100 g/d of various nuts—including almonds, peanuts, pecans and walnuts – can significantly decrease total cholesterol and LDL.
Monounsaturated Fats Fight Cancer
- A recent study published in Public Health Nutrition found that women getting the most monounsaturated fat had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer than those getting the least.
- A study published in Cancer Causes and Control found that men getting eating a MUFA rich diet had less chance of prostate cancer. And the more MUFA in the diet, the greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.
MUFAs Balance Blood Sugar & Promote Weight Loss
- According to a study in Diabetes Care, a diet rich in monounsaturated fats helps reduce abdominal fat better than a carbohydrate-rich diet. When test subjects ate a carbohydrate enriched diet, they accumulated fat in the abdomen. When they ate a diet that had more MUFA, abdominal fat decreased (even without exercise).
- A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that MUFAs have a profound effect on blood sugar. After six months on a MUFA-rich diet, fasting glucose dropped by 3%, insulin was reduced by 9.4% and the insulin resistance score was reduced by 12.1%.
- A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that a MUFA-rich diet improves fasting insulin levels in insulin- resistant subjects. What’s more, eating a breakfast rich in virgin olive oil decreased the post-meal rise in blood sugar and insulin, while increasing the beneficial HDL cholesterol compared to a carb-rich breakfast.
Maximize Your MUFAs!
Now that you know how important monounsaturated fats are, use this list to get more of these healthy fats into your diet… deliciously!
Fat Composition of Common Nuts and Oils
|Macadamia nuts (1 oz)||3 g||16 g||0g|
|Avocado (1 cup)||3 g||15 g||3g|
|Hazelnuts (1 oz)||1g||13g||2 g|
|Pecans (1 oz)||2g||11 g||6 g|
|Almonds (1 oz)||1 g||9 g||3.4 g|
|Brazil nuts ( 1 oz)||4 g||7 g||6 g|
|Cashews (1 oz)||2 g||7 g||2 g|
|Peanuts (1 oz)||2g||7g||4 g|
|Pistachios (1 oz)||1.5 g||6.5 g||4 g|
|Pine nuts (1 oz)||3 g||6 g||7 g|
|Olive oil (1 tsp)||0.7 g||4 g||0.5 g|
|Hazelnut oil (1 tsp)||0.3 g||3.5 g||0.5 g|
|Almond oil (1 tsp)||0.4 g||3 g||0.8 g|
|Apricot Kernel Oil (1 tsp)||0.3 g||3 g||1 g|
|Avocado oil (1 tsp)||0.5 g||3 g||0.6 g|
|Walnuts (1 oz)||2 g||2.5 g||13 g|
|Sesame oil (1 tsp)||0.6 g||1.8 g||1.8 g|
|Coconut (1 tsp||4.3 g||0.3 g||0 g|
|Walnut oil (1 tsp)||0.4 g||1 g||3 g|
|Grapeseed oil (1 tsp)||0.8 g||0.8 g||3.5 g|
|Flaxseed oil (1 tsp)||0.3 g||0.7 g||2.2 g|
|Palm oil (1 tsp)||3 g||0.4 g||0 g|