Monounsaturated Fat

 Monounsaturated Fat─The Heathy Fat 

  • Current guidelines recommend a diet that provides <25-35% calories from dietary fat, <7% saturated fat, <10% polyunsaturated fat, and up to 20% monounsaturated fat.1
  • The preferred substitution for saturated fat is monounsaturated fat or MUFA (abundant in olive oil and canola oil)  or polyunsaturated fat (abundant in soybean and sunflower oil)  and both results in decrease in LDL and triglycerides.2 Such substitution is more effective in preventing coronary artery disease (CAD) than reducing overall fat intake.3, 4
  • Substituting saturated fat with carbohydrates decreases LDL but makes LDL small, dense, and more dangerous (by increasing triglycerides).3 Substituting carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat decreases LDL, triglycerides, and increases HDL.
  • The cardioprotective effect of Mediterranean diet is attributed primarily to high intake of MUFA and nuts.5  This diet encourages daily consumption of fruits, vegetables; whole grain cereal and low-fat dairy products; weekly consumption of fish, poultry, tree nuts, and legumes; relatively low consumption of red meat, approximately twice a month.6
  • Although daily alcohol consumption is common with this diet alcohol is not necessary for the variety of benefits including, lower risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).5
  • Avocados and nuts (walnuts, peanuts, and almonds) are rich sources of monounsaturated fats and reduces risk of CAD.7 Cooking oils that are high in MUFA include olive oil (74%), almond oil (70%), canola oil, rapeseed oil, mustard oil (59%), peanut oil (46%), sesame oil (40%), and rice bran oil (39%).6, 8
  • Olive oil is a functional food that, besides having high-monounsaturated (MUFA) content, contains other minor components with biological properties.9
  • Although meat contains a significant amount of saturated fat, almost half of the saturated fat is stearic acid, which does not raise total cholesterol. Furthermore, lean meat has much less saturated fat than fatty cuts of meat. In addition, meat contains up to 45% cholesterol lowering monounsaturated fat.10
  • Lean beef is an excellent source of protein and monounsaturated fat, and has less saturated fat than chicken (dark meat). In the U.S. the term loin or round signifies lean meat, whereas prime or rib signifies fat cuts with very high saturated fat. A 6 oz portion of lean beef contains 3.0 g of saturated fat whereas a chicken thigh contains 5.2 g of saturated fat. Chicken and lean beef (not fatty meat) have similar effects on plasma lipoproteins and are interchangeable in a healthy diet.6
  • In individuals with 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.11
  • Consumption of a SAFA-rich meal is harmful for the endothelium, while a MUFA-rich meal does not impair endothelial function in subjects with diabetes.12 Both PUFAs and MUFAs increase insulin sensitivity and decrease the risk of diabetes.1
  • Energy-controlled high-MUFA diets do not promote weight gain and are more acceptable than low-fat diets for weight loss in obese subjects. Thus, there is good scientific support for MUFA diets as an alternative to low-fat diets for medical nutrition therapy in diabetes.13
  • Compared to a carbohydrate-rich diet, glucose concentrations and blood pressure levels were lower in a diet rich in MUFA in diabetic patients.14
  • The current US guidelines call for up to 20% of the energy from MUFA. This can be achieved by increasing the consumption of oils (olive, canola, peanut, or mustard oil), nuts (almonds, peanuts,  cashews, macadamia nuts, hazel nuts, and pistachios), lean meats (beef, lamb, poultry, mutton), and avocados.6
  • Although dietary composition remains an important, modifiable predictor of dyslipidemia, overconsumption of any form of dietary energy may replace overconsumption of saturated fat as the primary factor that increases lipid and lipoprotein levels.15


1. Enas EA, Senthilkumar A, Chennikkara H, Bjurlin MA. Prudent diet and preventive nutrition from pediatrics to geriatrics: current knowledge and practical recommendations. Indian heart journal. Jul-Aug 2003;55(4):310-338.

2. World Health Organization. Prevention of cardiovascular disease: A vital investment. World Health Organization, Geneva Switzerland2007.

3. Hu FB, Willett WC. Optimal diets for prevention of coronary heart disease. Jama. Nov 27 2002;288(20):2569-2578.

4. Hu FB, Stampfer M, Manson J, et al. Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(21):1491-1499.

5. Kastorini C M, Milionis HJ, Esposito K, Giugliano D, Goudevenos JA, Panagiotakos DB. The effect of Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and its components: a meta-analysis of 50 studies and 534,906 individuals. J Am Coll Cardiol. Mar 15 2011;57(11):1299-1313.

6. Enas EA. Indian diet and cardiovascular disease: An update. In: Chatterjee SS, ed. Update in Cardiology Hyderabad: Cardiology Society of India.; 2007.

7. Mozaffarian D. Fish and n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of fatal coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death. Am J Clin Nutr. Jun 2008;87(6):1991S-1996S.

8. USDA nutrient database for standard reference. Accessed June 22, 2011.

9. Perez-Martinez P, Garcia-Rios A, Delgado-Lista J, Perez-Jimenez F, Lopez-Miranda J. Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus. Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(8):769-777.

10. Grundy SM, Denke MA. Dietary influences on serum lipids and lipoproteins. Journal of lipid research. 1990;31(7):1149-1172.

11. Brehm BJ, Lattin BL, Summer SS, et al. One-year comparison of a high-monounsaturated fat diet with a high-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. Feb 2009;32(2):215-220.

12. Tentolouris N, Arapostathi C, Perrea D, Kyriaki D, Revenas C, Katsilambros N. Differential effects of two isoenergetic meals rich in saturated or monounsaturated fat on endothelial function in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. Dec 2008;31(12):2276-2278.

13. Ros E. Dietary cis-monounsaturated fatty acids and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. Sep 2003;78(3 Suppl):617S-625S.

14. Julius U. Fat modification in the diabetes diet. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. Apr 2003;111(2):60-65.

15. Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. Jul 4 2006;114(1):82-96. 

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