Diet & Exercise: Learn more about another ‘good guy’ fat, monounsaturated fats

Published 8:00 am Friday, August 17, 2018

Last week, we learned the benefits of incorporating “good” fats like polyunsaturated fatty acids into our diets.

This week, I’d like to share information on one more “good guy” fat…monounsaturated fats.

Like polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats have double bonds within their chemical structure. In the word “monounsaturated,” the “mono” means “one”, which signifies these fat molecules have only one double chemical bond.

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Unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are chemically weak, meaning their molecules bend and break, and that’s a good thing, because our bodies like to be able to break nutrients down easily so they can be used.

Also, this bending and breaking prevents monounsaturated fat from sticking to artery walls, which allows the body to more easily rid itself of cholesterol. Saturated fats are chemically solid and strong, so they don’t break apart, and can more easily stick to artery walls, which also prevents the body from eliminating LDL (bad) cholesterol. 

Another difference, between saturated and unsaturated fats is that saturated fats are solid at refrigerated and room temperatures (which means they’re solid in your blood stream), but unsaturated fats are liquid at both room and refrigerated temperatures.

While there are many different types of monounsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid is the most common type, comprising around 90 percent of those found in our diets.

Here are a few benefits from monounsaturated fats.

1. They reduce risk factors for coronary disease. Too much cholesterol in the blood can clog arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke.

Studies show that a high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids can reduce blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood). In fact, one study of 162 healthy people compared three months of a monounsaturated rich diet to a diet high in saturated fats. The study found that the diet high in saturated fats increased LDL (bad) cholesterol by 4 percent, while the diet abundant in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like fish and olive oil actually reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by 5 percent.

Another study found that a diet high in monounsaturated fats lowered blood pressure, which also reduces risk for heart disease.

2. Monounsaturated fats may reduce cancer risks.

One study showed that women with the highest amounts of oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat found in olive oil) in their fat tissues had the lowest rates of breast cancer. Many studies have evaluated whether men who eat a good amount of monounsaturated fats have reduced or increased rates of prostate cancer, but the evidence is unclear.

However, these studies were observational, which means they can’t prove cause and effect.

3. They improve insulin sensitivity.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar by allowing it into the cells. Monounsaturated fats improve insulin sensitivity in both those with and without high blood sugar.

4. Monounsaturated fats can actually help you lose weight.

Researchers have found that those on a diet high in monounsaturated fats yielded a greater increase (up to 4.3 percent) in resting energy expenditures (the number of calories you burn a day independent of your activity level or at rest) when compared to those on a high saturated fat diet.

5. Monounsaturated fats reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal process that helps the body heal and fight infection, but inflammation that is not controlled can contribute to chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. Compared to high saturated fatty diets, those rich in monounsaturated fats reduce inflammation.

Rich sources of monounsaturated fatty acids include olive oil, almonds, sesame oil, cashews, peanuts, peanut oil, canola oil, pistachios, olives, pumpkin seeds, avocado, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, pork and eggs.

While certain animal products like pork and eggs provide monounsaturated fats, I recommend getting them from olive oil, nuts and seeds. 

David Crocker, of Landrum, has been a master personal trainer and nutritionist for 30 years. Diet or exercise question? Email him at or text him at 864-494-6215.