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Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)

What are monounsaturated fatty acids?

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) have one unsaturated (double) bond between the carbon atoms. Main monounsaturated fatty acids found in the human diet and in the human body are:

  • Oleic acid (C18:1)*
  • Palmitoleic acid (C16:1)
  • Cis-vaccenic acid (C18:1)

*Cn means the number of C atoms. 1 means 1 double bond.

Foods High in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)

Chart 1 below lists foods that are high in monounsaturated acids (MUFA), mainly oleic acid, and low in saturated fatty acids (SFA).

Chart 1. Foods High in MUFA

FOOD Oleic acid (g)
Hazelnuts (1 oz, 28 g) 13.1
Pecans (1 oz, 28 g) 12.4
Sunflower oil, high oleic (1 tbsp) 11.6
Safflower oil, high oleic (1 tbsp) 10.2
Olive oil (1 tbsp) 9.6
Almonds (1 oz, 28 g) 9.1
Canola oil (1 tbsp) 8.6
Peanuts (1 oz, 28 g) 6.8
Pistachios (1 oz, 28 g) 6.5

Chart 1 reference: USDA.gov [1] 

Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fats

There is INCONSISTENT EVIDENCE about the effect of monounsaturated fats, when used instead of saturated and trans fats, on:

  • Lowering blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides [2,3,6].

Coronary Heart Disease

According to several systematic reviews of studies, there is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE about the beneficial effect of high monounsaturated fat intake on coronary heart disease [2,3,7,8].

According to one systematic review of cohort studies (2014), consumption of olive oil (which is high in the monounsaturated oleic acid), but not specifically consumption of monounsaturated fat, was associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease [5].

Diabetes Mellitus

Monounsaturated fat, when consumed instead of saturated fat, might increase insulin sensitivity and decrease the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2 [6,9], but more research is warranted.


According to one systematic review of observational studies (2011), consumption of olive oil (which is high in the monounsaturated oleic acid) is associated with decreased risk of cancer, but it is not clear if this is associated with the monounsaturated fatty acids or with other substances, such as polyphenols, in olive oil [4].

NOTE: Foods with monounsaturated fats typically contain high amount of vitamin E.

  1. List of foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids  US Department of Agriculture
  2. Siri-Tarino PW et al, 2010, Saturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Modulation by Replacement Nutrients  PubMed Central
  3. Schwingshackl L et al, 2012, Monounsaturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Synopsis of the Evidence Available from Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses  PubMed Central
  4. Tsaltopoulou T et al, 2011, Olive oil intake is inversely related to cancer prevalence: a systematic review and a meta-analysis of 13800 patients and 23340 controls in 19 observational studies  PubMed Central
  5. Schwingshackl L et al, 2014, Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies  PubMed
  6. What is the effect of dietary intake of MUFA on health and intermediate health outcomes?  NutritionEvidenceLibrary.gov
  7. Hooper L et al, 2015, Effect of cutting down on the saturated fat we eat on our risk of heart disease  Cochrane
  8. 2002, Third Report of the  National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III), p.3262,  Circulation
  9. Risérus U et al, 2009, Dietary fats and prevention of type 2 diabetes  PubMed Central

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