Unsaturated fatty acids

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)

Replacing SFA with MUFA improves the blood lipid profile and does not affect HDL-cholesterol levels6 (See Table 6).



MUFA are found in a wide variety of foods including vegetable oils, especially olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils, vegetable oils based spreads and margarines9, avocado, nuts (especially hazelnuts and peanuts). Meat is also a source of MUFA10.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)

PUFA lower LDL-cholesterol levels when they replace SFA or carbohydrates5,6,13 (See Table 6).

PUFA can be divided into two subgroups: Omega-6, and Omega-3.

Among PUFA, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are essential fatty acids and are needed for growth and development and maintaining health.

A healthy diet should contain both Omega-6 and Omega-3 PUFA2.


Omega-6 (mostly LA) are the major PUFA in the human diet and are widely present in plant (based) foods. The richest sources are soybean, corn, sunflower and safflower oils, along with vegetable oil-based spreads and margarines.

Also nuts and seeds are rich-in Omega-610.

Within the Omega-6 family, there is also arachidonic acid. It occurs in smaller amounts and originates from animal foods (e.g. meat, poultry and eggs).


There are two types of Omega-3 in the diet: “vegetable” and “marine” Omega-3.

  • The “vegetable” Omega-3 ALA is present in linseed, rapeseed, and soybean oil, chia seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables (e.g. Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens);
  • The “marine” very long chain Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) occur in oily fish such as herring, sardines, tuna, trout, salmon and mackerel. In lean fish (such as cod), they are found in liver, which is a natural source of fish oil.

Omega-3 can also be found in fortified foods such as soymilk, cooking oils, eggs and spreads.

EPA and DHA are not strictly “essential”, as the human body can form them from ALA; nevertheless ALA is only in small amounts converted to EPA and DHA.

EPA and DHA do not lower LDL-cholesterol; nonetheless, they have other beneficial effects such as lowering blood TG and reducing BP14.

For individuals who do not eat fish or seafood, or those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, increasing the consumption of “vegetable” Omega-3-rich food sources, including seeds, nuts, vegetable oils and green leafy vegetables, is encouraged to contribute towards the recommended daily intake of Omega-3.

EPA and DHA are included in dietary recommendations for a healthy diet and for the prevention of CVD as they have shown cardiovascular health benefits at regular intakes of at least 250 mg/day1. This amount is achievable when consuming one serving of fish at least twice a week, preferably oily fish1,7.

Next to EPA and DHA, a minimum intake of 0.5% of energy from the “vegetable” Omega-3 ALA is recommended1.