Monounsaturated
and Polyunsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease when eaten in place of saturated fat.

What They Are

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in higher proportions in plants and seafood and are usually liquid at room temperature. The exceptions are certain tropical plant oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil (which are high in saturated fat) and partially hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fat).

Where They Are Found


Monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Avocados
  • Mayonnaise and oil-based salad dressings
  • Nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pecans)
  • Olives
  • Seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame seeds)
  • Soft margarine (liquid, spray, and tub)
  • Vegetable oils (such as canola, olive, peanut, and safflower oils)

Polyunsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Fish (such as herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and tuna)
  • Mayonnaise and oil-based salad dressings
  • Nuts (such as pine nuts and walnuts)
  • Seeds (such as flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds)
  • Soft margarine (liquid, spray, and tub)
  • Vegetable oils (such as corn, cottonseed, soybean, and sunflower oils)

What They Do

  • Like all dietary fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats provide calories and help the body absorb certain vitamins, cushion and insulate the body, and support many body processes.
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contribute vitamin E to the diet.
  • Polyunsaturated fat is a source of two essential fats. These fats are considered essential because they are required for normal body functioning, but they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. Essential fats play a role in many body processes, including immune and nervous system function, blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation.

Health Facts

  • When eaten in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in the blood — which, in turn, can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fat by replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Although monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your health, they are still a concentrated source of calories. Therefore, they should be eaten in place of saturated fat (rather than added to the diet) while staying within recommended limits for calories and total dietary fat.

Action Steps For Replacing Saturated Fat with Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats in Your Diet

Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages shows the amount in grams (g) and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of total fat and saturated fat in one serving of the food.
Food manufacturers may voluntarily list the amount in grams (g) per serving of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat on the Nutrition Facts Label (under Total Fat), but they are required to list monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat if a statement is made on the package labeling about the health effects or the amount of monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat (for example, "high" or "low") contained in the food.
  • Cook and bake with liquid oils instead of solid fats (such as butter, lard, and shortening).
  • Choose oils that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (such as sunflower oil and olive oil), and avoid oils that are higher in saturated fat (such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils).
  • Switch from stick margarine to soft margarine (liquid, spray, or tub).
  • Try fish and plant sources of protein (such as soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds) in place of some meats and poultry.
  • Sprinkle slivered nuts on salads instead of bacon bits, or snack on a small handful of unsalted nuts or seeds rather than chips or salty snack foods.
  • Instead of using creamy salad dressings, make your own flavorful dressings with vinegar and oil (such as flaxseed, olive, or sesame oils).
  • When eating out, ask which fats are being used to prepare your meal. You can also request to see nutrition information, which is available in many chain restaurants.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 package (272g)
Amount Per Serving
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
  Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
  Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
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