Eating too much fatty food is not good for your health. But when it comes to monounsaturated fat, you do not have to worry about the health risks it might pose. It can actually be beneficial for you.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are one of the healthy types of dietary fat, along with polyunsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but start to turn solid when chilled.
From the chemical standpoint, monounsaturated fats are simply fat molecules that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, which is known as a double bond. The most common MUFAs in daily nutrition are oleic and palmitoleic acids.
Health experts recommend replacing saturated fat and trans fat in your diet with monounsaturated fats. When eaten in moderation, monounsaturated fats can benefit your health in many ways.
Here are some of the health benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).
1. Aids Weight Loss
A diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) is beneficial for weight loss.
These healthy fats help increase your basal metabolic rate, thus allowing your body to burn fat quicker. Also, these fats increase satiety, which means they help keep you full and satisfied longer and prevent overeating.
A 2001 study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that a moderate-fat, Mediterranean-style diet, controlled in energy, offers an alternative to a low-fat diet with superior long-term adherence, with consequent improvements in weight loss (1).
Another study published in Diabetes Care in 2009 found that in individuals with Type 2 diabetes, high-MUFA diets are an alternative to conventional lower-fat, high-carbohydrate diets with comparable beneficial effects on body weight, body composition, cardiovascular risk factors and glycemic control (2).
A 2015 study published in Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome found that a diet high in MUFAs promoted weight loss and body composition benefits in women who are obese. There was no influence of the type of dietary fat in obesity-related biomarkers (3).
2. Decreases Inflammation
A diet high in monounsaturated fat can also help reduce inflammation, a normal immune system process that helps your body fight infections. Too much inflammation in the body can contribute to chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that the traditional Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduction in the concentrations of inflammation and coagulation markers. This may partly explain the beneficial actions of this diet on the cardiovascular system (4).
Another study published in 2012 in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that high-MUFA diets reduced inflammation in patients with metabolic syndrome, compared to high-saturated fat diets (5).
3. Reduces Cholesterol Levels
The American Heart Association recommends the consumption of MUFAs to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels and to maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol) level.
These fats do not attach to the walls in your arteries and cause plaque buildup. It also helps prevent unwanted blood clotting, a key reason behind heart attacks and strokes.
A 2016 study published in Jornal Vascular Brasileiro notes that MUFA intake through olive oil and nuts on a regular basis can help improve plasma lipid profile, in terms of the concentrations or of the sizes of HDL-C and LDL-C particles (6).
4. Improves Heart Health
Following a diet rich in monounsaturated fat is also good for your heart health.
A 2002 study published in Atherosclerosis suggests that a high intake of monounsaturated fat is associated with reduced coronary risk (7).
Moreover, high-MUFA diets can help lower blood pressure, too. In particular, the oleic acid is easily absorbed in the body, and thereby lowers blood pressure.
A 2005 study of 164 people with high blood pressure found that a high-MUFA diet lowered blood pressure, improved lipid levels and reduced estimated cardiovascular risk when compared to a high-carb diet. This study was published in JAMA (8).
5. Improves Insulin Sensitivity
A diet high in monounsaturated fat is beneficial for diabetics and can even help prevent or delay the onset of the disease. It improves blood sugar control and enhances insulin sensitivity. Plus, the monounsaturated fats help keep triglyceride levels in check.
A 1998 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that a diet rich in cis-monounsaturated fat can be advantageous for both patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who are trying to maintain or lose weight (9).
A 2011 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that high MUFA diets appear to be effective in reducing HbA1c, and therefore should be recommended for people with Type 2 diabetes (10).
Moreover, a 2016 study published in Diabetes Care reports that a diet high in MUFAs can improve metabolic risk factors among patients with Type 2 diabetes (11).
6. Delays Skin Aging
Monounsaturated fats help maintain the water level in the epidermis and supply the ceramides and fats that keep your skin healthy and intact. Healthy skin is less prone to itching and dryness and looks healthy and glowing.
These healthy fats also help your skin hold on to nutrients and moisture, while flushing out waste products. It even reduces inflammation, which can decrease flare-ups of psoriasis and other skin conditions.
A 2012 study published in PLOS ONE reports that there is a lower risk of severe photoaging associated with a higher intake of MUFAs from olive oil in both sexes (12).
Which foods contain monounsaturated fats?
Most foods contain a combination of different fats. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include:
- Plant-based liquid oils like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil.
- Avocados, peanut butter, almonds, cashew nuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and several seeds.
- Some meat and animal-based foods.
Even though diets high in monounsaturated fats are good for your health, the benefits are realized only as long as you don’t add extra calories to your diet.
- A randomized controlled trial of a moderate-fat, low-energy diet compared with a low fat, low-energy diet for weight loss in overweight adults. International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders : journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11673773. Published October 2001.
- One-Year Comparison of a High–Monounsaturated Fat Diet With a High-Carbohydrate Diet in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628682/. Published February 2009.
- Effects of unsaturated fatty acids on weight loss, body composition and obesity related biomarkers. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4653532/. Published 2015.
- Adherence to the Mediterranean diet attenuates inflammation and coagulation process in healthy adults: The ATTICA Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234425. Published July 07, 2004.
- Dietary fat modifies the postprandial inflammatory state in subjects with metabolic syndrome: the LIPGENE study. Molecular nutrition & food research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22707261. Published June 2012.
- Monounsaturated fatty acid intake and lipid metabolism. Jornal Vascular Brasileiro. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1677-54492016000100052&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en.
- Protective effect of dietary monounsaturated fat on arteriosclerosis: beyond cholesterol. Atherosclerosis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12052487. Published August 2002.
- Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. JAMA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16287956. Published November 16, 2005.
- High-monounsaturated-fat diets for patients with diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9497173. Published March 1998.
- Effects of monounsaturated fatty acids on glycaemic control in patients with abnormal glucose metabolism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of nutrition & metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21912106. Published October 2011.
- Metabolic Effects of Monounsaturated Fatty Acid-Enriched Diets Compared With Carbohydrate or Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid-Enriched Diets in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Diabetes care. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27457635. Published August 2016.
- Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Intake and Risk of Skin Photoaging. PLoS ONE. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435270/. Published 2012.