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Understanding Monounsaturated Fat & Your Diet

You hear a lot about “good” fats and “bad” fats. Monounsaturated fat is considered to be a “good” fat. So why is it so good and what makes it different from other types of fat? Let’s take a look at the different types of fat and how monounsaturated fat can help you live a healthier life.

Cholesterol

Before we can understand the difference between good fat and bad fat, we need to understand cholesterol. Cholesterol in your body comes from 2 sources: cholesterol that is produced naturally by your body and cholesterol from the foods you eat. Cholesterol from food comes mostly from animals: dairy products, egg yolks and meats.

There are 2 kinds of cholesterol we want to focus on: LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, and HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol because it contains more fat than protein and increases your risk of heart disease. HDL on the other hand has more protein than fat and is considered to be "good" cholesterol that promotes good health.

Types of fatty acids

Fatty acids come in 2 types saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are considered to be “bad” fats and unsaturated are the “good” fats. How they differ depends on how they effect the “good” and “bad” levels of your cholesterol.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats are “bad” fats because they raise your overall blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. In addition, these fatty acids increase your levels of “bad” cholesterol. Examples of food with saturated fat include:

  • Some types of cheeses
  • Cream
  • Ice cream
  • Whole and 2% milk
  • Some types of ground beef
  • Bologna
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Spare ribs
  • Lard
  • Butter
  • Chocolate
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Coconut and coconut oil
  • Turkey and chicken skin

Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated fat is the “good fat” and comes in two varieties: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The difference between the two is chemical. Monounsaturated fat is bonded to a single molecule of hydrogen while polyunsaturated is bonded to two or more.

Monounsaturated fat lowers your “bad” cholesterol levels, reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke. These fatty acids may also increase your levels of “good” cholesterol, although there is still debate on whether or not this is true. Also, this fatty acid is frequently high in vitamin E, a vitamin that is usually deficient in many peoples’ diets. Examples of food with monounsaturated fat include:

  • Avocados
  • Canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil, tea seed oil, macadamia nut oil, and sunflower oil
  • Nuts like almonds, cashew, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios
  • Olives
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grain wheat
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal

Polyunsaturated fat is also a “good” fat because it reduces the levels of “bad” cholesterol in your body. Both monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are a source of essential fats the body needs for healthy skin and development of cells. There is no evidence to suggest that polyunsaturated fat is any better or worse than monounsaturated fat.

How Much Monounsaturated Fat Should You Have in Your Diet?

Monounsaturated fat is beneficial to your health while saturated fat is detrimental. You should replace foods with saturated fat with foods with monounsaturated fat whenever possible. However, keep in mind that even though monounsaturated fat is a “good” fat, it is high in calorie content.

You should eat foods containing monounsaturated fat in moderation. Try to keep your total fat consumption to less than 25 to 30% of your total calorie consumption—most of which should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

 

What Foods Are the Best Sources of Monounsaturated Fat?

Fatty foods usually have more than one kind of fat. Here is a list of foods that have a majority of monounsaturated fat:

  • Tea seed oil (80%)
  • Macadamia nuts (79%)
  • Olive oil (74%)
  • Almonds (65%)
  • Pecans (62%)
  • Rapeseed oil (60%)
  • Canola oil (59%)
  • Cashews (59%)
  • Hazelnuts (50%)
  • Peanuts (50%)

How to Add More Monounsaturated Fat to Your Diet

Here are some simple tips to add more monounsaturated fat to your diet. If a recipe calls for butter, margarine or shortening, substitute it with canola or olive oil. Add a few nuts, sesame seeds, olives, or avocado to your salads.

Understanding monounsaturated fats is a key to living a healthy life. All it takes are some simple substitutions from your regular diet to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke and to live a longer life.

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