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Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Table Of Contents
  1. Chemical Structure
  2. Types of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
  3. Health Benefits
  4. High intake of monounsaturated fatty acids increases the risk of breast cancer
  5. Dietary recommendations
  6. Occurrence

Like saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids can be produced by the body itself. Fats that contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature. When cooled, such as in the refrigerator, they begin to solidify 1.

Monounsaturated fatty acids, like other fatty acids, are almost completely absorbed in the intestine, oxidized for energy, converted into other fatty acids, or incorporated into adipose tissue 2.

Chemical Structure

Fatty acids generally consist of a hydrocarbon chain with a carboxyl group (COOH) at one end and a methyl group (CH3) at the other end. Some fatty acid molecules have exactly one double bond between two adjacent carbon atoms in their chain. When there is exactly one double bond in the molecule, it is referred to as a monounsaturated fatty acid. The hydrocarbon chain is not fully saturated with hydrogen atoms due to the presence of the double bond.

Depending on the position of the first double bond from the methyl end (CH3; also known as omega or n-end) of the hydrocarbon chain, monounsaturated fatty acids are classified as omega-5, omega-7, and omega-9 fatty acids. The first double bond of omega-5 fatty acids is located between the fifth and sixth carbon atoms. In omega-7 fatty acids, the first double bond is between the seventh and eighth carbon atoms, and in omega-9 fatty acids, it is between the ninth and tenth carbon atoms.

Types of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

There are numerous naturally occurring monounsaturated fatty acids. Here is a selection of monounsaturated fatty acids that are also found in plant-based foods:

Monounsaturated Fatty AcidsCarbon Atoms: Double Bonds
Myristoleic Acid (Omega-5)
Myristoleic Acid Foods
Palmitoleic Acid (Omega-7)
Palmitoleic Acid Foods
Oleic Acid (Omega-9)
Oleic Acid Foods
Gadoleic Acid (Omega-9)
Eicosenoic Acid Foods
Nervonic Acid (Omega-9)
Nervonic Acid Foods

Health Benefits

Monounsaturated fatty acids have a positive impact on cholesterol levels 3. Studies have shown that consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids increases the levels of healthy HDL cholesterol 4. This has preventive effects against arteriosclerosis and heart diseases. Regarding the influence of fatty acids on the harmful LDL cholesterol levels, there are no consistent study results 5. Scientists emphasize that monounsaturated fatty acids could provide a valuable approach for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, there are specific indications that various cardiovascular risk factors are significantly improved when saturated fatty acids and carbohydrates are replaced with monounsaturated fatty acids.

Other scientists associate the replacement of saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated fatty acids with increased physical activity and higher resting energy expenditure. 6. This study also demonstrated that higher consumption of monounsaturated fats and lower consumption of polyunsaturated fats in the diet have a positive impact on mood (reduced anger and irritability).

With study results from 2011, it was shown that a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (> 12% of daily energy intake) led to a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure in overweight/obese patients. 7.

Fatty acids are also involved in joint lubrication.

High intake of monounsaturated fatty acids increases the risk of breast cancer

According to a more recent study from 2014, women with higher intake levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (25.2 to 46.4 g per day) statistically had a higher risk of breast cancer compared to those with a lower dietary proportion of saturated fats (14.2 to 20.2 g per day) 8.

Dietary recommendations

There are no specific recommendations for precise intake of monounsaturated fatty acids. Many health organizations refrain from providing a recommended amount. Internationally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that about 15 to 20% of daily energy requirements should come from monounsaturated fatty acids (see Table 1 ⇒ 9). Some European health organizations recommend a range of 12 to 20% 10.

The following values result from these recommendations for the daily intake of monounsaturated fatty acids:

Caloric NeedsUpper Limit of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Intake -
at 12% of daily energy requirement
Upper Limit of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Intake -
at 20% of daily energy requirement
2,000 kcal 25.8 g 43 g
2,200 kcal 28.4 g 47.3 g
2,400 kcal 31 g 51.6 g
2,600 kcal 33.5 g 55.9 g
2,800 kcal 36.1 g 60.2 g
3,000 kcal 38.7 g 64.5 g


High amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids can be found in thistle oil (75.2 g per 100 g), olive oil (73 g), rapeseed oil (63.3 g), sunflower oil (46.2 g), and sesame oil (39.7 g). Macadamias (58.9 g), hazelnuts (45.7 g), pecans (40.8 g), almonds (31.6 g), cashews (23.8 g), peanuts (24.4 g), as well as avocados (9.8 g) are also extremely rich in monounsaturated fatty acids.

For a list of other foods containing monounsaturated fatty acids, click here.

In comparison to other dietary forms, vegans generally have lower intake levels of monounsaturated fatty acids 11.