March 16, 2001 -- A growing pile of research proves that one of the healthiest things you can eat is the very evil you’ve supposedly been trying to avoid: pure fat.
Pure monounsaturated fat, to be specific.
That’s the variety of grease found in nuts, olives, and avocados. It tastes just as good and satisfies your hunger just as well as its killer cousins, saturated fat (the type found in beef and butter) and trans fat (the “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” found in chips and cookies), but it doesn’t carry the health risks those fats do.
Instead, it actually reverses those health risks.
Good and Good for You
Thank biochemistry. Molecularly, saturated fat and trans fat are loaded with hydrogen atoms, which makes both solid at body temperature. When you eat fats, they become part of the liver membrane. Solid fats make it more difficult for your liver to absorb and filter out harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol — the sludge that eventually clogs every artery it touches. So eating a diet high in saturated fat (more than 30 grams a day) can lead to impotence, heart attacks, and strokes.
In contrast, the monounsaturated-fat molecule is missing two hydrogen atoms and is liquid at body temperature. Eat the stuff and it’ll make the liver membrane more “fluid” and allow LDL cholesterol to pass more easily into your liver and out of your body. That little trick pays enormous dividends. In fact, eating a diet rich in monounsaturated fat can give you:
A stronger heart: Penn State researchers found that 22 people who ate diets high in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat saw their LDL-cholesterol counts and triglycerides (both big factors in heart attacks) drop by 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively, after about three weeks.
“These results show that eating more monounsaturated fat can reduce your heart-disease risk by 25 percent,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, the study author and a professor in the university's Department of Nutrition.
Bigger muscles: Research has shown that men who eat more monounsaturated fat have higher testosterone levels, although researchers don’t yet know why. The more natural testosterone you produce, the more easily you’ll gain muscle.
Harder erections: Testosterone builds more than biceps.
Greater endurance: Runners in a State University of New York study maintained a vigorous pace for 10 minutes longer after snacking on peanuts for a month.
“Gram for gram, a high-monounsaturated-fat diet provides more energy than the extra carbohydrates you’re eating on a low-fat diet,” says Peter Horvath, a physical therapy professor and the lead author of the study. “And more energy means better performance.”
Quicker thinking: Italian men whose daily diets included about 75 grams of monounsaturated fat scored better on cognitive tests than men who ate less than that. In fact, those who consumed the least were the stupidest of the bunch.
“As we age, the neuronal cells in the brain require more monounsaturated fatty acids to keep their membranes strong,” says Dr. Antonio Capurso, the study author.
Looser pants: Nutritionists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that among two groups of people who had lost an average of 11 pounds, those who had eaten a diet high in monounsaturated fat were still slim 18 months later, while their cohorts on a low-saturated-fat diet quickly regained weight.
“Participants on the high-mono diet reported they didn’t feel as if they were dieting,” says Kathy McManus., one of the study authors.
Eating five handfuls of pecans will provide your daily quota of 60 grams monounsaturated fat, but it’s easier to eat regular meals that are rich in the good fat.