Polyunsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated fat and trans fat in your diet.
What are polyunsaturated fats?
From a chemical standpoint, polyunsaturated fats are simply fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, this is also called a double bond. Oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Olive oil is an example of a type of oil that contains polyunsaturated fats.
How do polyunsaturated fats affect my health?
Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.
Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats also provide essential fats that your body needs but can’t produce itself – such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. You must get essential fats through food. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important for many functions in the body.
Are polyunsaturated fats better for me than saturated fats or trans fats?
Yes. While, all fats provide 9 calories per gram, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can have a positive effect on your health, when eaten in moderation. The bad fats – saturated fats and trans fats – can negatively affect your health.
Which foods are high in polyunsaturated fats?
Most foods contain a combination of fats.
Foods high in polyunsaturated fat include a number of plant-based oils, including:
- soybean oil
- corn oil
- sunflower oil
- fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout
Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds, tofu and soybeans. The American Heart Association also recommends eating tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils. These foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid.
Are polyunsaturated fats lower in calories?
Polyunsaturated fats – like all fats – contain nine calories per gram.
For good health, the majority of the fats that you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Eat foods containing monounsaturated fats and/or polyunsaturated fats instead of foods that contain saturated fats and/or trans fats.
Last reviewed 2015.
Article copyright © 2016 American Heart Association.