Healthy plant-based fats are experiencing a new revolution. From their debasement, back in the sixties and seventies, they have now taken on new life in movements such as the ketogenic diet, paleo diet, and even the pegan diet (a mixture of both vegan and paleo ideals). While most of us understand the dangers of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and overconsumption of saturated fats, we may not know much about the healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, except for the fact that they are healthy.

Well, let’s get to know our healthy fats! What’s the difference between these two compounds? Is one better than the other? Where can you source them in a plant-based diet? I’ll tackle these questions for you and hopefully offer a bit more insight into why these fats are a great addition to your plant-based lifestyle!

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What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, it’s difficult to find the characteristics that differentiate these healthy fats. That’s until you focus in on their chemical makeup, more specifically the definition of the term saturated in terms of chemistry. While there are a few different forms of saturation in the chemistry world, when it comes to fat we’ll look at saturated in conjunction with molecule or atom bonds. A saturated or fully saturated compound means that atoms are linked by single bonds without any double or triple bonds. An unsaturated compound means that the molecules are joined by double and/or triple bonds. Now that we’ve got a grasp of saturation, let’s take a look at the fat!

Polyunsaturated Fat

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Polyunsaturated fats are made of “more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule,” which is also referred to as a double bond. One of the defining factors of a polyunsaturated fat substance is its physical liquidity versus solidity. At room temperatures, polyunsaturated fats remain liquid, yet when temperatures begin to fall, or if you put a polyunsaturated fat in the fridge or freezer, it will turn into a solid mass. Polyunsaturated fats provide a dose of a powerful antioxidant, Vitamin E, and those much sought after omega fatty acids. In fact, polyunsaturated fats are broken down into two different groups: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are not produced naturally in the body and must be consumed through diet. Polyunsaturated fat has been linked to a decrease in LDL cholesterol, better brain function and cellular growth, and improved mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Typical foods high in polyunsaturated fats include oils such as olive, sunflower, and soybean, as well as edamame, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and a variety of fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, and salmon.

Monounsaturated Fat

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As we mentioned above, polyunsaturated fats are the creation of multiple unsaturated carbon bonds. Monounsaturated fats are made of “one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule.” They are similar in their physical appearance in that they are liquid “at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled.” Monounsaturated fat also helps to lower LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and offers a dose of Vitamin E.

While polyunsaturated fats are a bit harder to come by on a strict plant-based diet, monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of plant-based staples such as avocados, peanut butter, chia seeds, and oils such as olive, peanut, sunflower, safflower, and sesame. A great example of the health benefits of monounsaturated fats can be found in studies related to the Mediterranean diet, in which a high healthy fat diet led to a decrease in heart disease.

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Polyunsaturated versus Monounsaturated

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Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are incredibly similar. They are found in similar foods, offer many of the same nutrients (with slight variances), and are linked to many of the same health benefits.

So, is one better than the other?

After reviewing multiple studies, it seems to be that neither fat outweighs the other and that balance between the two types of healthy fat is the way to go. While monounsaturated fats may be easier to acquire on a plant-based diet, polyunsaturated fats provide the essential omega fatty acids that our bodies desperately need. With that said, both of these fats reside within many of the same plant-based foods, therefore, you will most likely be consuming both fats on a regular basis whether you plan to or not.

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Cooking with Plant-Based Polyunsaturated Fat

Maple Caramelized Nuts/Stephanie Rafnson

There are a handful of great sources of polyunsaturated fat in the plant-based world. Many nuts and seeds provide high doses of this healthy fat. For instance, one cup of dried black walnuts provides a whopping 43.9 grams of polyunsaturated fats, which are broken down into 2508 milligrams of Omega-3 and 41,339 milligrams of Omega-6 fatty acids. On the other hand, one cup of whole flaxseed provides an even higher amount of polyunsaturated fat at 48.3 grams but offers more Omega-3, 38,325 milligrams, and less Omega-6, 9,931 milligrams.

Try a few of these recipes that offer a high content of healthy polyunsaturated fats: Maple Caramelized Nuts, Artichoke Walnut Bruschetta, Spicy Garlic Edamame, or try out a vegan flaxseed egg in your upcoming holiday baking!

Cooking with Plant-Based Monounsaturated Fat

Pistachio Date and Olive Oil Loaf/Courtney Klumper

Monounsaturated fats are a popular commodity in the natural plant-based world. Large quantities are found in staples such as avocado, chia seeds, olive oil, and peanut-based foods such as peanut butter and peanut oil. Therefore, when it comes to cooking with monounsaturated fats, the sky is the limit! Avocadoes are an incredibly diverse plant-based ingredient that can be consumed raw for a nutrient-packed snack or used as a plant-based baking supplement, such as this Key Lime Pie Smoothie Bowl. Another great dessert ingredient is peanut butter. Two tablespoons of peanut butter offer 7.9 grams of monounsaturated fat and is a tasty delight, such as these Peanut Butter Fig Bars. With that said, monounsaturated fat can also be found in chia seeds and olive oil, both of which are excellent for both breakfast recipes, such as this Strawberry Pistachio Chia-Oat Bars, and lunch or dinner concoctions, such as Sweet Potato Millet Patties and Blackberry Salsa recipe or this Pistachio Date and Olive Oil Loaf.

There’s a host of other plant-based foods that are saturated with healthy fats. In order to try these ingredients out in your kitchen, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Source: Maple Caramelized Nuts