Monounsaturated fats are found in plant foods, such as nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils. Eating moderate amounts of monounsaturated (and polyunsaturated) fats in place of saturated and trans fats can benefit your health.
How Monounsaturated Fats Affect Your Health
Monounsaturated fats are good for your health in several ways:
- They can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that can cause clogged, or blocked, arteries (blood vessels). Keeping your LDL level low reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Monounsaturated fats help develop and maintain your cells.
How Much you can eat
Your body needs some fats for energy and other functions. Monounsaturated fats are a healthy choice.
How much should you get every day? Here are recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Aim for getting no more than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fat (found in red meat, butter, cheese, and whole-fat dairy products) and trans fats (found in processed foods). For a 2,000 calorie diet, that is a total of 140 to 200 calories, or 16 to 22 grams a day.
- Keep total fat consumption to no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories. This includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Eating healthier fats is good for your health. But eating too much fat can lead to weight gain. All fats contain 9 calories per gram of fat. This is more than twice the amount found in carbohydrates and protein.
It is not enough to add foods high in unsaturated fats to a diet filled with unhealthy foods and fats. Instead, replace saturated or trans fats with healthier, unsaturated fats.
Reading Nutrition Labels
All packaged foods have a nutrition label that includes fat content. Reading food labels can help you keep track of how much fat you eat.
- Check the total fat in one serving. Be sure to add up the number of servings you will eat in one sitting.
- Look closely at the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in a serving. The rest is unsaturated fat. Some labels will list the monounsaturated fat content, some will not.
- Make sure most of your daily fats are from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources.
- Many fast food restaurants also provide nutrition information on their menus. If you do not see it posted, ask your server. You also may be able to find it on the restaurant's website.
Making Healthy Food Choices
Most foods have a combination of all types of fats. Some have higher amounts of healthy fats than others. Foods and oils with higher amounts of monounsaturated fats include:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Safflower oil (high oleic)
- Sunflower oil
- Peanut oil and butter
- Sesame oil
To get the health benefits, you need to replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats. Here are some ideas:
- Eat nuts instead of cookies for a snack. Just be sure to keep your portion small, as nuts are high in calories.
- Add avocado to salads and sandwiches.
- Replace butter and solid fats with olive or canola oil.
Monounsaturated fatty acid; MUFA; Oleic acid; Cholesterol - monounsaturated fat; Atherosclerosis - monounsaturated fat; Hardening of the arteries - monounsaturated fat; Hyperlipidemia - monounsaturated fat; Hypercholesterolemia - monounsaturated fat; Coronary artery disease - monounsaturated fat; Heart disease - monounsaturated fat; Peripheral artery disease - monounsaturated fat; PAD - monounsaturated fat; Stroke - monounsaturated fat; CAD - monounsaturated fat; Heart healthy diet - monounsaturated fat
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Hensrud DD, Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 202.
Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.
US Department of Health and Human Services; US Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Updated December 2015. Accessed July 2, 2020.
Review Date 5/26/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.