In my recent articles I have been focussing on dietary fat. Today I want to discuss monounsaturated fat in a little bit more detail.
WHAT IS MONOUNSATURATED FAT?
All fats are constructed from a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The way these atoms are chemically bonded together decides which type of fat it will be. With monounsaturated fats (also known as monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs) the carbon atoms are bonded to hydrogen atoms at all but one point. At this one point there is a double bond between two of the carbon atoms. So in other words the carbon atoms are not fully saturated with hydrogen atoms (so they are ‘unsaturated’) but only at one point (hence the name ‘mono’).
Monounsaturated fats have a lower melting point than saturated fats but a higher melting point than polyunsaturated fats. There are various types of monounsaturated fats. Each type has a different numbers of carbon atoms and the double carbon bond is in different positions. Some examples of monounsaturated fats include:
Cis-Vaccenic Acid:- This contains 18 carbon atoms and the first double carbon bond occurs 7 carbon atoms away from the methyl group at the end.
Oleic Acid:- This contains 18 carbon atoms and the first double carbon bond occurs 9 carbon atoms away from the methyl group at the end.
Palmitoleic Acid:- This contains 16 carbon atoms and the first double carbon bond occurs 7 carbon atoms away from the methyl group at the end.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN MONOUNSATURATED FAT?
Monounsaturated fats can be found in nuts, oils and vegetables. No food contains only monosaturated fat but the examples below are rich sources:
– Nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and cashew nuts.
– Oils such as olive oil and rapeseed oil.
– Seeds such as pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
IS MONOUNSATURATED HEALTHY?
Fat is often seen as the bad guy when it comes to the three macronutrients. Whilst people generally accept carbohydrates are needed for energy and protein is needed to build and maintain your body’s cells, nobody seems to accept that dietary fat has an important role in the body. Instead dietary it is often seen as the macronutrient to avoid with low fat diets and low fat foods proving extremely popular in recent years.
The truth is that there are many types of dietary fat. Some are good for you whilst others are not so good for you. Monounsaturated fat is one of the healthy fats and has a number of benefits. Recently, these benefits have started to gain recognition with the Mediterranean diet and the healthy properties of olive oil gaining huge publicity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MONOUNSATURATED FAT?
1) IMPROVED BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS:- There are two main types of cholesterol; low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL cholesterol can cause blockages in your artery walls and restrict the flow of blood through them. This can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and organ damage. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from your body and therefore reduces the associated risks. Studies suggest that consuming monounsaturated fats can reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. This helps keep your heart and organs healthy whilst keeping your blood pressure stable.
2) THEY ARE A GOOD SOURCE OF FAT SOLUBLE VITAMINS:- Foods that are high in monounsaturated fat are often a good source of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. A certain amount of monounsaturated fats also need to be present in the diet so that these vitamins can be properly absorbed. Fat soluble vitamins have numerous health benefits. They support healthy vision, help your body absorb essential minerals (including calcium and phosphorous), help your blood clot and give your cells protection from oxidative damage.
3) THEY CAN HELP YOU BURN BODY FAT:- According to this article consuming monounsaturated fats can prevent central body fat distribution. They can also increase the overall amount of fat that your body burns.
4) IMPROVED BLOOD GLUCOSE CONTROL:- Monounsaturated fats can help stabilise your blood glucose levels in two ways. First, they contain a substance called adiponectin which improves your cell’s ability to absorb glucose from the blood. Secondly, they improve your cell’s sensitivity to insulin (a hormone that allows your body’s cells to take glucose from the blood). This is particularly good news for diabetics who struggle to keep their blood glucose levels under control.
5) REDUCED INFLAMMATION:- Eating monounsaturated fats reduces inflammation by interfering with leukotrienes (naturally produced molecules that contribute to inflammation). This is particularly beneficial to arthritis sufferers as it can reduce the pain and stiffness associated with this condition.
6) REDUCED CANCER RISK:- Monounsaturated fats that are sourced from olive oil can protect you from a variety of cancers including breast cancer and colon cancer. It is thought that the flavonoids, polyphenols and squalene found in olive oil all help protect you from the above types of cancer.
MONOUNSATURATED FAT SUMMARY
Monounsaturated fat is now almost universally accepted as healthy and with the above benefits it is not hard to see why. It has a huge protective capacity and also assists your body with many important processes. If you do not currently eat many foods containing monounsaturated fats then now is the time to make the change. Try using some olive oil next time you cook a meal or try substituting one of your regular snacks with a portion of nuts. Your body will thank you for it.
What do you guys think? Are you a fan of monounsaturated fats? Have I missed any of the benefits? Leave a comment and let me know.
Food for Thought: What is a Monounsaturated Fat? (KitchenStewardship.com)
Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fats (Hubpages)
Monounsaturated Dietary Fats & Oils: Sources, Diet Benefits (AnneCollins.com)
Monounsaturated Fat (Wikipedia)
Monounsaturated Fats (Super Foods and Weight Loss)
Monounsaturated Fats & Weight Loss (eHow.com)
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) (Suite101.com)
What are the Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fats? (eHow.com)