What Is Monounsaturated Fat?

MUFAs, monounsaturated fats or fatty acids, are a type of dietary fat derived from plant sources that offer potential health benefits. MUFAs maintain their liquid state at ambient temperature, but when chilled, they tend to thicken. These fats, along with polyunsaturated fats, are considered to be beneficial to human health, unlike saturated and trans fats which are deemed unhealthy by nutrition experts.

For instance, saturated and trans fats, which are solid at room temperature, are known to contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and stroke by promoting the accumulation of plaque within the blood vessels. Thus, it is recommended by many healthcare professionals to substitute dietary sources of saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats for better health outcomes.

Monounsaturated Fats: types and differences

In terms of their molecular structure, monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) differ from saturated fats. The “mono” prefix denotes that these fats have only one double bond in their fatty acid chain. As a general rule, fatty acid chains with fewer double bonds are less tightly packed and have a lower melting point. With just one double bond, MUFAs have a lower viscosity and melting point, and therefore are liquid at lower temperatures.

On the other hand, saturated fats have single bonds at every link in the chain, leading to a higher melting point and viscosity, potentially raising levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and causing arterial blockage.

Trans fats, which are also known as trans-unsaturated fatty acids, are usually artificially produced oils in which hydrogen is added to create more double bonds. However, some animal-based foods contain small amounts of natural trans fats.

Health Benefits

Monounsaturated fats are a type of fats that are essential to the proper functioning of cells in the body. They also help the body absorb vitamin D, which is necessary for strong bones and immune function.

Here a brief list of all the benefits linked to the use of MUFAs:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. These fats help to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, which is a major contributor to these conditions. Research found that diets higher in monounsaturated fats are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and that guidelines should be provided for the intake of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
  • Lowers the risk of high cholesterol, which can lead to serious health consequences. Unlike saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol.
  • Helps to reduce inflammation in the body. This is particularly true for the Mediterranean diet, which is high in monounsaturated fats and has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

In addition to these health benefits, monounsaturated fats may also aid in diabetes management and improve certain lifestyle factors. Studies have found that diets high in monounsaturated fats may provide benefits in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, and that a diet high in monounsaturated fats may be associated with less anger, better mood, and increased physical activity.

Overall, the quality of fat is more important than quantity when it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Focusing on healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated and trans fats can help people make informed decisions about which fats to consume.

Foods and Diet

Monounsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet and come primarily from plant sources like nuts and seeds. However, many foods contain more than one type of fat. For example, olive oil contains monounsaturated fat (73%), polyunsaturated fat (10.5%), and saturated fat (14%). On the other hand, butter contains about 21% monounsaturated fat and about 51% saturated fat.

Foods rich in monounsaturated fats include:

  • High oleic sunflower (84%)
  • Hazelnut oil (78%)
  • Hazelnuts (77%)
  • Olive oil (73%)
  • Avocado oil (72%)
  • Avocados (71%)
  • Almonds (70%)
  • Mustard oil (60%)
  • Canola oil (59%)
  • Macadamia nuts (59%)
  • Pecans (59%)
  • Peanuts (46%)
  • Peanut oil (46%)

Replacing unhealthy fats with healthier ones can be easy, for example, by cooking with olive oil instead of butter, replacing processed snack foods with nuts, and reducing the intake of animal proteins in favor of plant-based alternatives.

While many people avoid fat, the type of fat you consume is important for overall health. Dietary fat supports important body functions, like dissolving and absorbing vitamins into the intestines, keeping hair and skin healthy, insulating the body and protecting internal organs. Rather than avoiding fat altogether, focus on limiting consumption of less healthy types of fat.

There is no specific recommendation for the intake of monounsaturated fat, but most health organizations suggest an intake range of 10% to 20% of the total daily calorie intake. To determine your specific fat intake range in grams, first, multiply the number of calories you consume each day by 20% and then by 35%. This is your target fat-calorie range. Once you have a calorie range, you can determine the target number of fat grams. Since fat contains nine calories per gram, for a 2,000-calorie diet, the recommended daily fat intake would be between 44 to 78 grams. It is important to remember that this is the target amount from all fat sources, not just monounsaturated fat.

To stay well within your daily target, pay close attention to food nutrition labels when shopping or use an online nutrition calculator to calculate the percentage of fat and saturated fat per serving in relation to the total calories.

Making simple swaps in your everyday cooking and watching your intake of animal products can help you shift towards consuming healthier forms of fat, like monounsaturated fat, which will help you stay full and satiated throughout the day while gaining long-term health benefits.


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