Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are “healthy fats” that can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation. However, they can have beneficial effects only taking into account dietary sources and other nutrients. Keep reading to learn the best food sources, benefits, and potential risks of monounsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are fatty acids with one double bond in their structure, which determines some of their properties and health effects. They are found in [ 1 ]: Nuts
Animal fats including lard, duck, and tallow (smaller amounts)
Moderate monounsaturated fats intake may reduce the risk of heart disease, improve metabolism and immune function, and more [ 2 ].
The most common MUFAs in daily nutrition are oleic and palmitoleic acids [ 3 ].
Oleic acid (omega-9), is a non-essential fatty acid, which means the body can create it. It may have anti-inflammatory and hearth-friendly effects [ 4 ].
For example, olive oil is 70 – 80% oleic acid. Many studies described its health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation [ 5 ]. Effects on Cholesterol
Oleic acid blocks cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. It activates the unfolded protein response pathway and decreases NPC1L1, which is important for cholesterol absorption [ 6 ]. Effects on Inflammation
Oleic acid can reduce inflammation due to saturated fats in human cells. It reduces ICAM-1 , which is part of the inflammatory response, and phospholipase A2, an inflammatory enzyme [ 7 ].
Oleic acid has various effects on the immune system and inflammation. MUFA-rich oils might have similar anti-inflammatory effects as fish oil. Like fish oil, olive oil helps to [ 8 ]: Decrease arachidonic acid and the production of the inflammatory mediator prostaglandin E2 [ 9 ].
Effects on Blood Pressure
Oleic acid reduces the stability of the cell membrane, which increases the activity of a receptor for adrenaline (α2-adrenoreceptor), thus potentially lowering blood pressure [ 10 ].
Palmitoleic acid (omega-7) is present in the blood and in a normal human diet [ 11 ].
In the human body, palmitoleic acid is synthesized in the liver and fat tissues. Dietary sources include macadamia oil, cod liver oil , salmon, olive oil, chocolate , eggs, dairy fats, and sea buckthorn [ 12 ].
There are two forms of palmitoleic acid: cis and trans . The cis isoform is associated with decreased fat accumulation in the liver and increased insulin sensitivity. The trans isoforms are found in dairy products and partially hydrogenated oils and may be associated with lower risks of diabetes and slightly lower body fat [ 12 , 13 ]. Effects on Metabolism
Palmitoleic acid supports a healthy metabolism by:
AMPK is an enzyme that activates energy-producing pathways and inhibits energy-consuming ones. It helps prevent cancer and diabetes. At the same time, it also lowers cholesterol and triglycerides [ 14 ].
PPAR-alpha is a protein that helps turn on genes (transcription factors) involved in fat burning during starvation or ketosis [ 15 ]. Undecylnic acid
Gondoleic acid Gondoic acid Cetoleic acid Erucic acid Nervonic acid A summary of clinical reviews and meta-analyses concluded that diets high in MUFAs increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and likely lower the incidence of heart disease. The authors suggested further research in order to shed more light and provide specific recommendations [ 3 ].The famous “seven countries study” followed Mediterranean men and women over many decades and compared them to their counterparts in northern Europe, Japan, and the US. Those with diets rich in monounsaturated fats, including olive oil, had lower rates of heart disease [ 16 ].A diet high in monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels. The replacement of saturated fat with MUFA can decrease LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease [ 17 ].In a study of 180 patients, the Mediterranean diet (high in MUFAs) reduced body weight, markers of inflammation, and heart disease risk over 2 years [ 18 ].Diets high in MUFAs were associated with reduced risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Oleic acid, olive oil, and Mediterranean diets all help prevent heart disease-related deaths, according to a meta-analysis of 32 studies including 841,211 subjects [ 19 ].In studies of patients at risk of heart disease, both the high-carbohydrate diet and a high monounsaturated fat diet lowered total blood cholesterol levels. However, patients on the high monounsaturated fat diet saw lower LDL -cholesterol and triglycerides than those on the carbohydrate diet [ 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 ].Olive oil and other MUFAs help prevent LDL oxidation and, thus, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) [ 17 , 24 ]. Blood Pressure In a study of 23 patients with elevated blood pressure, those assigned to high monounsaturated fat diets all had significantly reduced blood pressure after 6 months. Eight patients were able to stop taking blood pressure medication entirely while on the diet [ 25 ].However, the drop in blood pressure was also linked to reduced saturated fat intake and increased nitric oxide levels stimulated by polyphenols present in olive oil, not just to the high monounsaturated fat content [ 25 ].A summary of clinical reviews concluded that high-MUFA diets reduce blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c in type 2 diabetic patients [ 3 ].Diets high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) may be healthier for diabetic patients than low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. The Mediterranean diet, which is high in MUFAs, improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity [ 26 ].Olive oil intake is associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a meta-analysis of 29 trials. However, some other substances in olive oil other than MUFAs may also be responsible for these effects [ 27 ].When a group of 162 healthy people was put on a 3-month high saturated fat diet, their insulin sensitivity decreased, compared to a high MUFAs group [ 28 ].Ten overweight diabetic patients improved their glycemic profiles (blood glucose and insulin value correlation) when placed on a high monounsaturated fat diet for 15 days [ 29 ].Eleven pre-diabetic patients […]