Health and nutrition experts sometimes refer to them as “monos.” The rest of us know them as monounsaturated fats. Monos, along with polyunsaturated fats (or “polys”), are what health and nutrition experts call the “good fats” — as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats, or “bad fats.”
Here’s a look at the healthful and culinary properties of monos.
Monos and polys are “good,” says the Harvard School of Public Health, because they can improve your cholesterol, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and “play a number of other beneficial roles.”
Despite those similarities, monos and polys aren’t identical twins. They have a different chemical makeup, for example — a fact that carries implications in the kitchen such as when frying with oils like extra virgin olive oil.
Monounsaturated fats have one double-bonded carbon in the molecule. By contrast, polyunsaturated fats — found in sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils — have more than one double-bonded carbon. That chemical structure makes sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils less stable during cooking, according to experts.
“The greater the number of double bonds in the fat’s fatty acids, the less stable the oil is. It’s more easily broken down by heat, light, and so on,” says Kathy McManus, director of the department of nutrition at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Monounsaturated fats also carry certain health-promoting properties, according to health experts.
They can lower the level of bad cholesterol in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
The group also says monounsaturated fats “provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells,” adding that these fats are “typically high in vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.”
Another interesting note: Health experts say you can consume monounsaturated fats in higher quantities than polyunsaturated fats. “You can have them in higher amounts,” Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, says of monounsatured fats.
Willett tells us people can get up to 30% of their calories from monos — a level he says is on par with the traditional Greek diet. He adds that people should get no more than 10% of their calories from polyunsaturated fats, noting that animal studies have found a high intake of polys can promote tumor growth.
The key here, says Willett, is balance. “You don’t want all of one or all of the other.”
The Cleveland Clinic notes that while polyunsaturated fats can lower both your total and bad LDL cholesterol, they “have the potential to also lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels when consumed in large amounts. That is why they should be consumed to no more than 10% of total calories each day.”
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch