Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered healthy fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy fats that increase the risk of heart disease. For optimal health, the majority of the dietary fat you consume should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. There are slight differences in the chemical makeup of these two fats.
Monounsaturated fat has one double-bonded, or unsaturated, carbon in the molecule. It is typically liquid at room temperature and turns solid when chilled. No specific amount of monounsaturated fat is recommended per day, notes MayoClinic.com, but you should eat foods rich in this healthy fat while staying within the recommendation for total dietary fat, which is 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, nuts and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated fat.
The chemical makeup of polyunsaturated fat is slightly different – it has more than one double-bonded, or unsaturated, carbon in the molecule. Polyunsaturated fat is typically liquid at room temperature, as well as when chilled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, polyunsaturated fats can be broken down into two types: omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil are good sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, while the omega-3s can be found in walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, herring, trout and some oils. There are no specific recommendations for daily intake of polyunsaturated fats, but you should stay within the recommendation for total dietary fat.
Monounsaturated fats may improve your cholesterol and help keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This can reduce your risk for diabetes and may help control your appetite. Polyunsaturated fats help heart health by improving cholesterol, and may decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Omega-3s appear to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, MayoClinic.com reports. Some scientists believe omega-3 polyunsaturated fat may also help reduce body fat with or without cutting calories, but more research is needed to support this theory, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Try to substitute healthy fats for unhealthy fats, recommends MayoClinic.com. Have salmon several times a week instead of red meat, which has saturated fat. Use olive oil in salad dressings and marinades; sprinkle slivered nuts or sunflower seeds on salads in lieu of bacon bits. Snack on a handful of nuts rather than potato chips or processed crackers, which typically have trans fats. Keep in mind that all fats, including healthy fats, have calories, so enjoy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation.
Jan Sheehan is an award-winning medical and nutrition writer, having entered journalism in 1992. She is a former contributing editor for "Parents" magazine. She has also written nutrition articles for "Self," "Fitness," "Ladies' Home Journal," "Health" and other magazines. Sheehan has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Purdue University.