No, MUFAs and PUFAs are not some strange tool that you use to slough off dead skin in the shower. MUFAs and PUFAs -- or monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids -- are also referred to as the "healthy fats." These fats, which protect your health and your heart, are an essential part of a balanced diet. It's true -- dietary fat is back on the nice list.
MUFAs have one double-bonded, or unsaturated, carbon atom. These fats are usually liquid at room temperature, but when you chill them, they turn solid. Eating monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats and trans fats can lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
MUFAs are also high in vitamin E, a vitamin and antioxidant that keeps your body healthy by protecting your cells from damage. Most foods contain a combination of fats, but avocados, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil are particularly high in monounsaturated fats.
PUFAs have more than one double-bonded, or unsaturated, carbon atom. Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but they also stay liquid when they are chilled. When eaten in moderation, polyunsaturated fats can lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
Types of Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two categories: omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in normal growth and development and proper brain function. They also reduce widespread inflammation and decrease your risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Like omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a role in growth, development and brain function, but they also regulate metabolism, stimulate hair growth and keep the reproductive system healthy. Unlike omega-3s, some omega-6 fatty acids can promote inflammation. The key to staying healthy is to consume a balance of both types of fatty acids. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids should be between 2 to 1 and 4 to 1.
The primary dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna, herring, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, walnut oil and pumpkin seeds. The primary sources of omega-6 fatty acids include soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil.
Twenty to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, according to MayoClinic.com. If you are on a standard 2,000-calorie diet, this means eating about 44 to 78 grams of fat per day. While there is no specific recommendation, most of the fat you eat should be in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats and trans fats.
Although MUFAs and PUFAs are considered healthy fats, they are still high in calories, containing 9 calories per gram. A handful of nuts here and a teaspoon of oil there is enough to reap the benefits of fats without any negative health effects, like weight gain.
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- MayoClinic.com: MUFAs: Why Should My Diet Include These Fats?
- American Heart Association: Monounsaturated Fats
- American Heart Association: Polyunsaturated Fats
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Polyunsaturated Fats and Monounsaturated Fats
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.