Most people look for the nutrition chart given on the packet while purchasing any food item so that they can keep their calorie intake under control. The nutrition fact label provides detailed information about the nutrient content of food items, such as the amount of fat, carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber it has. While most of these contents are essential macronutrients required for human metabolism, their excess intake can cause several health problems. In particular, the excess consumption of dietary fat can cause several issues such as obesity, clogged arteries, an increased risk of certain diseases, and so forth. Therefore, it is advised to analyze the fat content of a food item before eating it. All food items containing fats have a mix of specific types of fats. Essentially, all fats are organic compounds made of hydrocarbon molecules. The classification of fats is based on their chemical composition. In chemistry, fats (oils) often refer specifically to triglycerides (esters composed of three fatty acid units joined to glycerol, trihydroxy alcohol). They are primarily classified into two categories: saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats do not contain any double-bonded carbons in the hydrocarbon chain, whereas unsaturated fats are those, which have at least one doubly-bonded pair of carbon atoms in the hydrocarbon chain. Dietary fats provide fatty acids for the synthesis of the cell membrane (a vital component of all animal cells). Unsaturated fats have gaps (uneven structures) due to the presence of double-bonded atoms. These gaps provide membrane fluidity, facilitating membrane transport and cellular signaling. While both types are needed for the optimal composition of the cell membrane, abundance in saturated fats would make the membrane rigid and hinder cellular responsiveness. Overall, unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are further classified into monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), the one with a single double bond, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), the one with two or more double bonds. The most common fatty acids in the human diet are unsaturated or monounsaturated. The quantitatively most important representative in the diet and tissue lipids is oleic acid (18:1, n-9) with a double bond at the n-9 (ω9) position. Like other fatty acids, MUFAs are almost completely absorbed from the intestine and are oxidized (for energy production), converted into other fatty acids, or incorporated into tissue lipids. Humans can synthesize monounsaturated fatty acids, and therefore, they do not require them as such from the diet. However, monosaturated fatty acids have certain benefits on cardiovascular health when used to replace saturated and trans fats in the diet. These effects include helping to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while maintaining HDL (“good”) cholesterol and improving blood vessel function. Observational studies have shown that replacing 5% of energy from saturated fat with monounsaturated fatty acids has been associated with a 15% lower risk of coronary heart disease, and that replacement of saturated fat with MUFAs (mainly from plant sources) decreases CHD risk. Though the fat content we read on the nutrition chart of the food items is a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats, few food items are rich in monounsaturated fat content. Let’s take a look at a few examples of monosaturated fats sources in daily life.
It is not every day that we come across a food that is rich in fats and still good for health. Avocado is a bright green fruit with a large pit and dark leathery skin. You need to consume a certain amount of fat for good health, as your body needs fat for energy, blood clotting, brain development, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, and limiting inflammation. Avocados contain naturally good fats. In fact, over 75% of the fat in avocados is good fat with 5g coming from monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and 1g from polyunsaturated fat per 50g serving. Avocados are an excellent substitute for saturated or trans fats in your favorite dishes. The most abundant fatty acid is oleic acid, which is also the main component of olive oil. Research has linked oleic acid to reduced inflammation and it may have beneficial effects on cancer. Avocado oil is an excellent source of healthful fats, and animal studies suggest they offer protection against inflammation, heart disease, and diabetes. Avocados are rich in many essential vitamins and minerals. Some of the most abundant ones include vitamins, folate, potassium, and copper.
2. Algal Oil
Most of us are familiar with the greenish film called algae that develops on ponds and lakes. In addition to their ecological importance as an oxygen producer for aquatic life, algae are also an economically important source of crude oil, which has several applications in various industries, especially in the pharmaceutical sector. Chemical analysis of the crude oil produced from algae shows that it has a 92% concentration of monounsaturated fats present in it. This makes it a potential alternative for several oils used in culinary arts. There are hundreds of strains of algae, which can be crossbred and otherwise genetically modified in ways that shift the organism’s nutrient profile. That’s how algae oil for cooking is produced. Due to the presence of omega-3 and omega -9 monounsaturated fatty acids in algal oil, it is quite important in the pharmaceutical industry. These fatty acids can reduce inflammation (swelling), improve levels of some fats in the blood, and help with brain function. It also has the potential for improving thinking skills in children and older people, lowering cholesterol, improving vision in people with a certain eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa), and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
3. Olive Oil
When we talk about dietary choices, olive oil is viewed as a healthier option in comparison to most of the other commercially available cooking oils. Olive oil is the fat that is obtained from crushing olives, the fruit of the olive tree. People use olive oil in cooking, cosmetics, medicine, soaps, and as a fuel for traditional lamps. Olive oil originally came from the Mediterranean, but today, it is popular around the world. After harvest, olives are crushed into a paste and then decanted and put through a centrifugation process to separate the oil. The final product is then stored in stainless steel tanks that are protected from oxygen. When bottled, the oil should go into a dark glass bottle to keep it fresh. Healthwise, olive oil is packed with 75% of monounsaturated fatty acid, which reduces the risk of high cholesterol levels and several cardiovascular diseases. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 13.5 g of fats, out of which monounsaturated fatty acids contribute to 9.1 g, and saturated fats only contribute to the 1.9 g, remaining 2.5 g is accounted for by the presence of several vitamins. The majority of olive oils comprises oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, abbreviated with a lipid number of 18:1 cis-9. The quality of olive oil is defined as a percentage of grams of oleic acid, the main fatty acid present in olive oil, in 100 grams of oil. Based on this percentage, the highest quality olive oil (Extra-Virgin olive oil) must feature a free acidity lower than 0.8%, the virgin olive oil is characterized by acidity between 0.8% and 2%, and the lampante olive oil (a low-quality oil that is not edible) features a free acidity higher than 2%.
4. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower is a beautiful tall plant, scientifically known as Helianthus, belonging to the daisy family Asteraceae, whose flower looks like the sun. However, there is more to their nature than just beauty. The multipurpose plants deliver healthy snacks, useful oil, and bird seeds. Any potential benefits of sunflower oil depend on the type and nutrient composition. Originally domesticated as a crop around 2100 BCE, sunflower oil, today, has become a popular food, medicine, and skincare ingredient. It is available in several forms, each with a different formula and with its own health benefits. Sunflower oil is also commonly used in the kitchen because of its mild flavor and high smoke point (the temperature at which an oil or fat begins to produce a continuous bluish smoke that may catch fire). Sunflower oil is primarily composed of both polyunsaturated fatty acid (Linoleic acid) and monounsaturated fatty acid (Oleic acid). There are three types of sunflower oils available commercially in the market:
- High-Linoleic sunflower oil found on grocery store shelves today is high in polyunsaturates or linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. It is an excellent home cooking oil and salad oil with a light, clean taste, high smoke point, and low level of saturated fat.
- High oleic sunflower oil is premium sunflower oil with monounsaturated levels of 80% and above. It is used in the food and industrial applications where high monounsaturated levels are required.
- Nu-Sun is a mid-oleic sunflower oil new to the market. Developed by standard hybrid procedures, it has a monounsaturated level (oleic) of between 55-75% with an average of about 60-65%. Saturated fat levels of 8-9% are 20% lower than linoleic sunflower oil. The balance of its composition is linoleic acid. NuSun is mostly used in commercial frying applications. It requires no hydrogenation, thus eliminating the concern of trans fatty acids. The 25% linoleic presence adds the benefit of pleasing taste.
5. Canola Oil
Canola is a bright, yellow-flowering plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family. This family includes three different species: Brassica napus, B. rapa, and B. juncea. Originally from the Mediterranean area and Northern Europe, B. napus are commonly known as rapeseed. Rapeseed was identified in 2000 BC as a high-erucic acid crop, containing >40% erucic acid in the oil. Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid that mainly enters the food chain when rapeseed oil is used in industrial food processing and home cooking in some countries. Canola oil is composed of low level (7%) of saturated fatty acids (SFAs), substantial amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) including 61% oleic acid, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) including 21% linoleic acid and 11% alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). With regard to the high MUFA content of canola oil, there is enough evidence supporting the positive effects of MUFAs compared with SFAs on cardiovascular health through the regulation of plasma lipids and lipoproteins, susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, and insulin sensitivity. Also, for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, canola oil has been recommended for achieving daily n-3 FA requirements of 1 g/day. It’s important to note that the heating methods used during canola manufacturing as well as high-heat cooking methods like frying, negatively impact polyunsaturated fats like ALA. Although canola oil is one of the most widely used oils in the food industry, comparatively few long-term studies exist on its health impacts. While some studies link it to improved health, many suggest it causes inflammation and harms to our memory and the heart. Until larger and better-quality studies are available, it may be best to choose oils that have been proven healthy, such as extra virgin olive oil, instead.
Nuts are some of the best sources of monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats help lower cholesterol levels and can stabilize blood sugar levels, which is especially important if you are diabetic. Some of the nuts rich in monounsaturated fats are pecans, almonds, pistachios, and peanuts. Among them, pecans are considered to be the healthiest and the richest source of MUFAs in the diet. Pecans about 74% fat out of which 8% are saturated fats, 58% of monounsaturated fats, and 27% are polyunsaturated fats. Pecans are also a rich source of manganese, copper, magnesium, thiamine, phosphorus, copper, zinc, iron, and fiber. They are believed to lower the lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels.
7. Animal Fat
Animal products provide a wide variety of nutrients important in the human diet. They are the sole food sources of some nutrients and provide one-half or more of other nutrients. Animal fats are a by-product of the whole meat chain, but they are not produced as such. Animal fats are only produced in relation to the raising of animals for meat, eggs, milk, or wool production. Animal fats are a side, co-, or by-product of the production of another animal product. Animal fats are rendered tissue fats that can be obtained from a variety of animals. Although many animal parts and secretions may yield oil, in commercial practice, oil is extracted primarily from rendered tissue fats from livestock animals like pigs, chickens, and cows. Dairy products yield animal fat and oil products such as butter. Out of many fats and oils produced as a by-product of meat harvesting, Tallow and Lard are particularly rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Tallow is a hard fat rendered from the fatty tissues of cattle that is removed during the processing of beef. It has around 50% of MUFAs present in it, whereas, lard is the fat rendered from clean, edible tissues of hogs in good health at the time of slaughter. Its production is limited to certain killing and cutting fats from the hog. Lard usually comprises 40% monounsaturated fatty acids.