Fats are confusing. Bad fats, good fats, omega-3s, saturated, unsaturated, trans…it can be difficult to keep them all straight. Not to mention that fat was targeted as THE macronutrient to avoid in the 1980s-1990s thanks to low-fat campaigns by organizations such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A couple decades later, we’ve realized that fat wasn’t necessarily the issue with the standard American diet. Fats play a vital role in how our body functions, so it’s important to know which ones are best for you.
Today we’re going to shine the light on monounsaturated fats.
Saturated vs. Unsaturated
In a general sense, fats are either considered saturated or unsaturated. A saturated fat means that all of the carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain are joined with a single bond, and the remaining bonds are attached to a hydrogen atom. This chemical structure allows for the fat to be solid at room temperature. Think animal fats, butter, and coconut.
Unsaturated, on the other hand, means that adjoining carbons on the fatty acid are connected by one or more double bonds. A monounsaturated fat signals that there is one double bond in the structure. A polyunsaturated fat means that there are multiple double bonds. Unsaturated fats are normally liquid at room temperature.
It’s worth mentioning here that there is such thing as a trans fat. This type of fat is mainly a result of industrial fat production. Trans fats are found in products such as margarine or other highly refined “foods.” This type of fat is linked to instances of cardiovascular issues like obesity and heart disease and should be avoided at all costs.
What’s a MUFA?
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are sometimes referred to as omega-9 fatty acids. While most foods contains a mixture of different types of fat, food sources that are high in MUFAs specifically include olives, olive oil, avocado, and certain nuts and seeds.
The benefits of consuming MUFAs are numerous. This type of fatty acid is generally thought to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is at the root of various diseases, so including a wide range of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet as often as possible is important.
Monounsaturated fat is also considered heart healthy and to be protective against heart disease. It has been linked to reducing LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) and improving levels of HDL (the “good” one). Research has also shown that it can help improve insulin sensitivity. This is important to note because over 3 million Americans experience issues with insulin resistance. Including a variety of monounsaturated fats in your diet can assist your body in building up its insulin sensitivity.
Many food sources of MUFAs also pack a healthy punch of the antioxidant Vitamin E which assists the body in combating free radicals and repairing tissue damage. And it’s worth mentioning that monounsaturated fats are vital for the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K.
While all fats contain 9 calories per gram, they are not created equal. Incorporating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats (and avoiding those scary trans fats) can be incredibly beneficial to overall health. Try this Mexican chocolate mousse or salad with olive oil dressing to get MUFAs in your diet today.
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