10 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated Fats FinalAmidst all the debate over how saturated fat and PUFAs differentially affect our health, we often forget about monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs. These are almost universally tolerated, if not loved. No one really maligns them. Vegans and carnivores alike consume them on a regular basis. You find ’em in nuts and seeds alongside PUFAs. You find them in animal fats alongside saturated fats. In most healthy diets, whether alternative (Primal, keto)  or conventional (Mediterranean, AHA), monounsaturated fats feature prominently. They can’t really be avoided. But they’re an afterthought in hard core nutrition geek circles. Probably because no one really attacks them. Probably because they’re uncontroversial.

Let’s change that. Today, I’m going to explain why, in explicit detail, you should be eating more monounsaturated fat—if you aren’t already.

1. It’s surprisingly stable

Saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats are defined by their molecular structure. When we talk about “oxidized fatty acids,” we’re talking about oxidation of the carbon atoms that lie between double bonds. PUFAs are highly unstable because they have two more double bonds; that’s two more weak spots vulnerable to oxidative damage. Saturated fats are highly stable because they have no double bonds, no weak spots. MUFAs, with their one double bond, are theoretically vulnerable to oxidation—but it rarely actually happens. The literature shows that MUFA-rich oils, like olive and avocado, are highly resistant to heat damage during cooking.

2. It makes mitochondria function better

Mitochondria are (almost) everything. Cellular power plants whose design we co-opted from parasitic bacteria billions of years ago, mitochondria provide ATP—the basic energy currency. They regulate both individual cellular metabolism and, since we’re just collections of cells, overall metabolism. The more mitochondria we have and the better they work, the more energy we’re able to consume, utilize, and produce. They’re quite essential.

They’re also sensitive to oxidative stress if they’re not built with the right materials. Mitochondria whose membranes contain high levels of PUFAs are less stable, more prone to oxidative damage, and function worse than mitochondria with MUFA-rich membranes. We need our mitochondria to work if we’re to enjoy good health and a strong metabolism, and MUFAs make that possible.

3. It’s a primary constituent of many healthy foods

We eat foods, not nutrients, remember. And by choosing foods high in monounsaturated fat, in a roundabout way you’ll be choosing foods high in many important nutrients.

Consider the mac nut. Buttery, sweet, associated with many health benefits. A favorite treat of mine is salted, dry-roasted mac nuts in Greek yogurt with a drizzle of raw honey. “Salted”? Yep. Try it.

Consider the avocado. Everyone’s favorite “healthy fat.” A rich source of potassium, half an avocado can reduce the postprandial inflammatory load of a big meal.  I don’t mean to use scare quotes in a negative way—I love avocados. That everyone but Ray Peat embraces it amuses me, is all.

Consider the almond. A surprising source of prebiotic fiber and repository for vital minerals, the almond is mostly known as a “bag of linoleic acid.” It has PUFAs, sure, but MUFAs are still the primary fatty acid present in the almond. Didn’t know that, did you? We forget.

Consider the olive, whose MUFA-rich oil reduces inflammation in heart disease patients.

Consider the egg yolk. Easiest/tastiest source of choline around. Great source for folate, selenium, B12, complete protein, dietary cholesterol (yes, it’s important). Go pastured and it gets even better. Did you realize that MUFA is the predominant fatty acid in your average egg yolk? It is.

Consider grass-fed beef. Who doesn’t love it? It’s higher in nutrients, lower in cruelty. Even vegans will begrudgingly admit it’s “better” and “slightly less murderous” than conventional beef. Turns out that the grass-fed stuff is higher in MUFAs (and stearic acid, a type of saturated fat that desaturates to MUFA in the body).

4. It supports immune function

Research has established the pivotal role of oleic acid in immune function: it improves wound healing, increases the elimination of pathogens, and is associated with protection against autoimmune diseases.

5. It protects against diabetes

Several lines of evidence point to a protective effect.

  • Observational studies consistently show an inverse relationship between MUFA consumption and diabetes (and diabetes-related complications, like kidney damage).
  • Controlled trials find that MUFA-rich diets improve glycemic control and lipid profiles in type 1 diabetics. In type 2 diabetics, they reduce insulin resistance (especially compared to PUFA-rich diets).
  • Animal trials show that MUFA reverses the tendency of inflammatory cytokines to depress insulin production, making it vital for type 1 diabetics for whom depressed insulin production is a major issue.

Eat it up, diabetics.

6. It has anti-tumor mechanisms

Oleic acid plays a crucial role in the initiation of several anti-carcinogenic cellular processes. It even combines with bovine lactoferrin (a bioactive protein found in milk) to form a novel anti-tumor compound, and animal studies indicate a number of anti-cancer properties inherent to oleic acid. Don’t go sticking raw milk with olive oil in your Vitamix and selling it as a cancer cure or anything, but that’s pretty cool.

7. It’s great for blood lipids

Even as controversy over the importance of the lipid profile rages across the nutritional world, one thing remains certain: whatever stance you take, monounsaturated fat has a neutral or positive effect. It increases HDL and reduces LDL. It reduces triglycerides and increases the all-important HDL:Total ratio. It does this in healthy people and diabetics, in the overweight and the heart disease-stricken. It does this without increasing LDL’s propensity to oxidize, as happens in high-PUFA diets.

8. It’s good for your joints

MUFA (and its constant companion, saturated fat) has been shown to increase the resilience of cartilage exposed to stressful conditions. Omega-6 PUFAs have the opposite effect. This may come down to oleic acid’s inhibitory effect on TNF-alpha, a cytokine involved in local joint inflammation.

9. It’s widely accepted

We like to flout conventional wisdom, but it’s important to only do that when it’s actually wrong. Sometimes conventional wisdom is correct. And when everyone agrees on something, take a closer look before discarding it.

It turns out that the pro-MUFA stance is not based on fluff or propaganda. Real legitimate science shows that MUFAs are beneficial. The kind of science that your average vegan, paleo, and conventional cardiologist would all cite and find credible.

10. It’s found in the best mayo on the planet

Now, I have no idea what pure oleic acid tastes like. Not much, I’d imagine. But think about olives, bacon, beef, brie, and, oh, avocados. Foods that contain it tend to be delicious.

This is why I chose avocado oil as the foundation for most of our Primal Kitchen products. Whether it’s mayo (chipotle lime or regular), dressing (Greek vinaigrette or honey mustard), or straight up avocado oil, MUFAs as they appear in the wild taste as good as they are good for you.

Oleic acid, the primary MUFA, isn’t magic. It’s not a “superfood.” It’s the work horse of the fatty acids. It’s the foundation. It’s the one constant amidst all healthy diets. Meat eaters get tons of it through animal fat. Lacto-ovo vegetarians get it through dairy and eggs. Vegans get it through nuts and oils. We all carry a lot of it in our adipose tissues, if not by weight then by percentage. Our bodies even convert certain saturated fats, like stearic acid, into oleic acid; that’s how much our bodies need it.

It’s time we pay closer attention to MUFAs. Don’t you agree?

What did I miss? What other health benefits do oleic acid and other MUFAs offer? What’s your favorite way to obtain them?

Thanks for reading, all!

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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43 thoughts on “10 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Monounsaturated Fat”

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  1. Long live the olive oil! I slightly roast my veggies with some butter/coconut oil and afterwards I spread the olive oil over them and add some herbs. Yummie!

  2. Ill take mine with a bacon, avocado and grass fed beef lettuce wrap….please!

  3. Anytime someone tells me to eat more avocados I’m in! This all makes sense to me. Bottom line, I feel better on so many levels eating enough fat, and try to get it from a variety of sources. Reading Good Fat, Bad Fat right now…interesting! I’ll be posting review and testing a recipe or two on my blog soon. There was a salad dressing with a whole avocado and olive oil…sounds amazing!

    1. You really can use avocado mash anywhere you would use mayo. It plays well with an amazing spectrum of flavors.

  4. Favorites are dark chocolate (stearic acid) and your wonderful mayo which I am going through at a rapid clip these days. Oh, and also whole avocados of course.

    Not leaving out olives/oil and egg yolks either, sometimes all mixed together sans chocolate-that has to be all by itself for me.

  5. Avocado is wonderful. A little Himalayan salt and it’s a light meal when I don’t have time to cook breakfast.

  6. Speaking of including more monos in my diet, I’ve stumbled upon the best way to shut my doctor up concerning LDL and statins–lately, I’ve taken to blending all the different types of fat in the house into “cooking fat bombs” (I’ll explain). My personal cooking “fat bombs” consist of equal amounts of: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, lard, MCToil, and grass-fed butter–I blend them all together, then pour onto a silicone bread pan and freeze. Later, I remove the yellowish slab of fat from the pan, and cut it into butter-pat sizes to use while cooking (even in bone broth).

    My LDL dropped from 139 to 127 (like I care, but my doctor still does), and my HDL has risen from 70 to 99, yet I’m still eating ALL THE FAT!! Fat from just about the entire spectrum of SFA, mono, and all the various chain lengths–everything except PUFAs, which are unstable for cooking, as we know. If I added a little flavoring and maybe some stevia, I could eat the fat bombs as a treat, but choose to save them for my cooking.

    I also use the same “fat bomb’ recipe for salad dressing, using a 1/3 c. measure for each of the fats (making a total of 2 c.), and adding 2/3 c. apple cider vinegar, some spices, ans salt. I suppose you could use PUFAs in the salad dressing, but I went with what I had. It seems to be working for me, my doctor, and my lipids–I’m well into Pattern A.

    1. Instead of using a silicone bread pan, just pour your fat into silicone ice cube trays, or the ice trays with the silicone on the bottom or each cube. Then you can pop out the butter-pats without cutting up a slab.

  7. I use avocado oil more times than not when it comes to cooking, whether hot or cold dishes. I like the taste and I like the idea that it’s a favorable influence on blood lipids.

  8. I knew about the heart healthiness of MUFAs, but hadn’t heard about the immune boosting properties. Pretty cool. Maybe it relates to why after going primal/getting more MUFAs in naturally, I don’t get colds as frequently (although, since there are clearly so many positive factors involved, it’s hard to say). Great article.

  9. I can’t get enough olives and avocado in my life. Whether it’s eating the suckers plain, cooking with their oils, or adding them to every permutation of salad, I’m all about those two MUFA bombs.

  10. Yep, those Monounsaturated fats often get ignored in discussions regarding fat intake. I just wish more people would get their fats in food format (like you recommend above) and not so much as added fats. Don’t get me wrong, I love roasting my veggies with coconut oil, and whipping up some yummy homemade mayo, but ideally we’d all be getting (most of ) our fats as part of the delicious whole food we’re eating, thus also getting all of those other fantastic nutrients in a highly absorbable way.

  11. I’m glad to see a article about this. I’ve always ate a high fat diet but it’s predominantly monounsaturated, not saturated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of cold pressed coconut oil and grassfed butter. However we evolved on high monounsaturated diets. Animals fats like tallow and lard along with bone marrow are all highest in monounsaturated fats. That’s not to downplay the role of saturated fats, saturated fats are important for cellular function and proper assimilation of omega 3 fats.

  12. This brings to mind that centenarian woman who said she drank a glass of olive oil a day as a key to her longevity. Something tells me a robust genetic predisposition to live long was the key, but perhaps all those monounsaturated fats kept her body humming at full speed. She must have had the most well-lubricated joints of any woman over 90! 😉

  13. Love it. I actually never think of eggs as a source of monounsaturated fat. They’re so maligned by traditional nutritionists as cholesterol bombs (never mind the studies that show that dietary cholesterol doesn’t correlate with blood cholesterol levels) that I assumed its fat content was also entirely saturated. Good to know there’s yet another reason why eggs are a superfood.

  14. Great article as always Mark. Pretty much consume everything you mentioned EXCEPT … sad to say … I cannot stomach avocados and I can’t bring myself to eat beef any more, have not had a steak or hamburger probably in 20 years.

  15. Yes to monounsaturated fat! I get regular doses through avocados, avocado oil, olives and grass-fed beef.

    The avocado oil is a relatively new addition for me. I tried Primal Kitchen’s and have been hooked since!

  16. Best breakfast /and/or dinner…
    Soft boiled pasture raised eggs “smushed” together with a good hunk of avocado…some sea salt and if really feeling decadent a splash of EVOO…

    (and while the eggs are cooking , a handful of almonds!)

  17. Hi, Mark ~

    Great info, as always, though I have one quibble/question re. the comment “…making it vital for type 1 diabetics for whom depressed insulin production is a major issue.”

    I have had Type 1 diabetes for almost 30 years. My insulin production isn’t simply “depressed”; it has been pretty much obliterated by the initial autoimmune attack on my insulin-producing islet cells. No amount of MUFA consumption is going to restore that function. I eat plenty of those suckers, and I inject just as much insulin as I did back when I thought all fats were bad.

    1. Thanks, Heather, for saying this! I’ve had type 1 for over 27 years, and I had the same thought.

  18. I’m taking the Primal Health Coach course. This Sunday evening I figured my macro amounts using the formulas in the course. Monday and Tuesday I made it a point to eat within the protein and fat intake ranges that my calculations provided.

    Tuesday morning, and this morning, my fasting blood glucose was 98. This is the first time in about 10 years that my fasting blood glucose has been below 104. Usually it’s somewhere between 105 and 120.

    I’ve been eating “mostly Primal” for the last several years, but have never really paid attention to protein and fat amounts. I believe the increased amounts of fat that I ate over the last two days is largely responsible for my normal fasting glucose numbers.

  19. Just had my brekkie …..plenty of fat…….cocoa, coconut, nuts and buckinis granola with coconut yogurt and home made almond milk (just nuts and water in a Nutrimix..yum) and blueberries. Had my bone broth with lemon and tumeric on waking…such a hearty way to start the day!

  20. I wonder why most western olive oils don’t list the acidity? In Crete and must if Greece etc they lusy acidity and don’t eat anything below 2% acidity.

  21. World’s BEST Mayo indeed!
    I remember the day clearly …. receiving my first jar from Thrive …. I just dug in for a spoonful ASAP! I truly believe those were tears in my eyes… thinking about BLTs, Tuna and Chicken salads … deviled eggs … oh and left over Thanksgiving turkey in my future .

  22. Looks like I’ll have an excuse to pick up some extra avocados next grocery day … great list of benefits!

  23. Wait I’m confused… I thought we weren’t suppose to heat olive/avocado oil very much??

  24. I love lots of these foods! Very interesting about heating olive oil, I do sometimes shallow fry in the (french?) way and combine olive oil and grass-fed butter, it stops the butter browning. Delicious too! I find I eat more olive oil in summer in vinaigrettes with lemon, cider vinegar, balsamic on salads.

  25. Considering this, shouldn’t cold pressed canola oil be OK? I love canola based mayo.

    1. Noooo, that would be PUFA, regardless of extracting method. Almost all commercial mayo is canola based. Wait, are you clowning us? Did I just feed a troll? Consarn that devilish Poes Law.

  26. Funny timing but recently I read research that suggests monounsaturated fats are the best for absorbing our fat soluble nutrients when compared to other fats. Top that salmon and egg with some avocado!

  27. One of my favorite breakfasts is taking an avocado removing the pit and scooping up some of the meat to make room for 2 eggs then broiling them until the whites are cooked. Some Himalayan salt and pepper and you are good to go!

  28. i love my avocado in everything, wifey only likes it from the halved original, not in anything else.
    I salt with some himalayan pink salt, a little pepper, mix in a bit of curry and turmeric powder and BAAM!!

  29. Sad 🙁 Avocados give me terrible digestive pain… don’t know why. Olive oil too. Shame cos I love them.

  30. I make my own Mayo with a mix of EVOO and Avocado oil, a free range egg, a little squeezed lemon juice, some pink salt, pepper and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. It’s yummy on everything, especially bacon, egg and avocado. I manage to get through a jar almost every week. Whatever is left I discard at week’s end because of the raw egg even though it’s kept in the fridge.
    A small handful of raw nuts makes a nice finish to a salmon and salad lunch or dinner. Primal/paleo eating is just sooooo good.

  31. I’m mediterranean – Olive oil is AWESOME. We drink it every day and use it everywhere. Very healthy, and also very delicious.