What are Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats?

Fat rich whole foods

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat are both unsaturated fats. “Poly” means many unsaturated chemical bonds and “mono” means one unsaturated chemical bond. These unsaturated fats are often found in liquid vegetable oils.

  • Polyunsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. Common sources of polyunsaturated fat are safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn and soybeans, many nuts and seeds, and their oils.
  • Monounsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature but start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures. Canola, olive, and peanut oils, and avocados are sources of monounsaturated fat.
  • Both types of unsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when used in place of saturated fat in your diet. Remember to be moderate in your intake of all types of fat.
  • Poly- or monounsaturated oils — and margarines and spreads made from these oils — should be used in limited amounts in place of fats with a high saturated fat content, such as butter, lard, or hydrogenated shortenings.
  • By substituting monounsaturated fat in your diet for saturated and polyunsaturated fats you may be able to keep HDL cholesterol levels high and LDL cholesterol levels low. Overall the highest intake of fat should be from the monounsaturated type (12 – 20 percent of total calories).


Tips for replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats

  • Use oils containing monounsaturated fat like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil, instead of oils high in saturated fat like coconut oil and palm oil.
  • Use oils high in polyunsaturated fats like corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils instead of coconut oil, palm oil, or hydrogenated vegetable fats.
  • Use liquid oils instead of butter, lard, or hardened vegetable shortening.
  • Eat foods high in unsaturated fats like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna) instead of meats high in saturated fat.
  • Incorporate foods high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil into your salads instead of using products high in saturated fats like mayonnaise-based dressings.
  • Try the plant-stanol and sterol fortified products. These are made from naturally occurring substances in vegetable oils, nuts, corn, rice and other plants. These substances help block the absorption of cholesterol and help lower LDL cholesterol. Consuming 2-3 grams of plant stanol or sterols can lower LDL cholesterol up to 14%. Many products including margarine spreads, orange juice, granola bars, and yogurt are now fortified with plant stanol or sterol esters.