Most of us are familiar with the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. But, this isn’t the only fatty acid that is critical for health. Oleic acid is another.
Commonly found in olive oil, oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid. Our bodies can create a limited amount of it but most oleic acid must come from the food that you eat. This makes it important to find good oleic acid foods.
What’s more, those foods need to be healthy.
You can actually get oleic acid from canola oil and similar options. This means it is present in many fried foods and countless types of junk food. But, to see health benefits, a different approach is needed.
This post examines powerful foods that you can turn to, along with why oleic acid is so critical.
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Why Consume Oleic Acid?
Oleic acid isn’t strictly needed for survival, so it’s not possible to be deficient in the fatty acid either (1). But, there are still many advantages to consuming oleic acid regularly.
For one thing, oleic acid plays a key role in human cells. It helps support cell membranes, plays a role in the immune system and provides energy as well.
There are also various health benefits associated with oleic acid. These include:
- Decreasing total blood cholesterol levels and improving the cholesterol profile (2,3,4). This may help protect against heart disease too (5).
- Lowering blood pressure levels (6,7,8,9).
- Decreasing inflammation and improving immune system function (10,11).
- Improving insulin sensitivity (12,13,14).
- Reducing the risk of obesity (15,16,17).
- Possibly improving mood (18,19) and cognitive outcomes (20,21,22).
This is just a small selection of impacts. Many of the health benefits from olive oil are partly attributed to oleic acid. There are also other potential advantages that are being researched.
Some of the observed benefits come from oleic acid itself. Others relate to having a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. The site Healthline explains many of the benefits of doing this, along with sources of these compounds.
The Best Oleic Acid Foods
There are many food sources of oleic acid but they’re not all healthy.
Instead, people often get their oleic acid from foods like pizza, ribs, desserts and fried potatoes (23). This is because you can find oleic acid in many oils, including canola oil.
But, if you want health benefits from oleic acid, choosing the right foods is critical. The items below are all healthy sources of oleic acid. Most offer other benefits for health as well.
#1 Olive Oil
There can be no doubt that olive oil is good for you. It’s also one of the richest sources of oleic acid, consisting of around 80% oleic acid (24). In fact, many (but not all) of the benefits from olive oil are from oleic acid (25).
Olive oil is also strongly associated with the Mediterranean diet. This dietary approach is known to decrease inflammation, lower heart disease risk and promote weight loss.
The fatty acid composition makes olive oil one of the best ways to increase oleic acid intake. Olive oil is also easy to add to your diet. For example, The Mediterranean Dish offers a recipe for Simple Mediterranean Olive Oil Pasta. The site My Humble Kitchen also provides details about how you can cook with olive oil.
It’s also important to choose your olive oil carefully.
There are many different brands out there. Some are amazing while others are low quality. Counterfeit olive oil is also a serious problem and some companies add other types of oil to spread theirs out.
And, as always, the best choice is extra virgin olive oil. This comes from the first pressing of olives and will give you the highest levels of healthy compounds.
Olives themselves do contain oleic acid as well. After all, olive oil does come from olives. This can be another way to add oleic acid to your diet, especially if you already eat olives regularly.
However, olives aren’t powerful as a source of oleic acid.
Olive oil is basically just fat, while olives are more complex. Roughly speaking, they are around 80% water, 10% fat, 6% carbs, with a little protein as well (26). The oleic acid is a proportion of the fat.
This makes them best as an extra source of oleic acid, rather than being your primary choice. If nothing else, olives make a great healthy snack.
#3 Avocado Oil
Avocado oil isn’t nearly as common (or as popular) as olive oil. But, it’s another key source of oleic fatty acid. It also offers many of the same health benefits.
This is also a natural type of oil. It is simply produced from the pulp of the avocado – often through cold pressing. The cold pressing means there are no chemical solvents to worry about and the product isn’t refined.
The oil is also very practical. It has a higher smoke point than olive oil and can be easier to cook with.
The flavor is also mild. This means you can use it in recipes where you don’t want to impact the flavor. In contrast, olive oil has a distinctive taste that isn’t always desirable.
As avocado oil contains oleic acid – it shouldn’t be surprising that avocados themselves do too.
In fact, avocados contain multiple healthy fats, including alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid and oleic acid. The first of these is the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid and it is very relevant for health.
Avocados are healthy in other ways too. They’re a powerful source of nutrients, including various B vitamins, along with vitamin C and vitamin K.
Their taste and texture also make avocados extremely popular. For example, Ketogasm talks about how avocados are perfect on a keto diet. The post also offers details about ways to use avocados and a few recipes to get you started.
#5 Almonds, Hazelnuts and Other Nuts
Most types of nuts contain some oleic acid, including:
Of these, hazelnuts offer the highest levels of oleic acid, followed by pistachios and then almonds (
Nuts aren’t as powerful as olive oil or avocados for oleic acid. But, they’re a very easy choice, as you can eat them on their own. Many recipes rely on nuts as well, offering another way to get your oleic acid.
#6 Pumpkin, Sesame and Chia Seeds
In the same way, seeds offer a good way to get your oleic acid. Pumpkin seeds are one example. These make a healthy snack and they’re rich in nutrients.
Chia seeds and sesame seeds can also work well. Chia seeds are even popular as a superfood – and they are nutritionally dense with a good balance of healthy fats (Paleo Hacks explains more about them).
All three options are easy to include in the diet. Roasted pumpkin seeds can simply be eaten outright. You can even roast your own, which lets you control the seasonings and flavor.
The seeds can all be used in recipes or simply sprinkled on top of a meal. For example, you might add chia seeds to your yogurt or even make a chia seed pudding (Wellness Mama has a great recipe you can try).
#7 Red Meat
It’s easy to assume that oleic acid just comes from plant-based foods. But, that’s not true. Oleic acid is also present in red meat.
For conventionally raised beef, 30% of the fatty acid content is oleic acid (30). This percentage will vary based on factors like feeding and finishing techniques. Fatty acid ratios are also different from one type of meat to the next.
Some research suggests that grass-fed beef may be lower in oleic acid than grain-fed – although grass-fed has higher levels of other fatty acids (31). Again, this will be influenced by many factors.
Regardless of the type, red meat is a nutrient-dense addition to the diet. It is also a powerful source of protein and offers many advantages for health.
Red meat isn’t the best source of oleic acid out there. But, it is another way to get the fatty acid and a great addition to most diets.
Cheese is another source of oleic acid. Like beef, the level of oleic acid is much lower than with products like avocado and olive oil. Even so, cheese is a useful source and it fits into many diets.
As the site Organic Facts points out, cheese isn’t unhealthy anyway. It contains many different nutrients and tends to be satisfying.
Eggs are a surprisingly good source of oleic acid, yet they’re often ignored in discussions of the fat. One estimate suggests that oleic acid makes up between 45% and 48% of the fatty acids in chicken eggs (33).
Eggs are also nutritionally powerful on their own – offering a great balance of fats and proteins. They’re even perfect for weight loss. They help people to feel more satisfied after a meal, which may lower the risk of snacking and overeating.
How Much Oleic Acid Do You Need?
Oleic acid isn’t considered an essential nutrient – so there is no formal recommended dose (34). But, 1 to 2 tablespoons of any oleic acid rich oil (like olive oil) should be sufficient to provide the various benefits (35).
Relying on whole foods in your diet may be enough as well. After all, options like nuts, seeds, avocados and red meat are all common dietary components. These all provide some oleic acid.
How Much Oleic Acid do the Foods Contain?
You may have noticed that we didn’t mention the amount of oleic acid in most of the foods mentioned. This was for two reasons.
- Natural variation. There is considerable variation in oleic acid levels between different products, harvests and even locations. This makes it impossible to get an accurate figure for most types of foods. Any numbers that are present are estimates only.
- Testing. Each testing process will give different answers. This is influenced by how they tested and the specific product.
The site Pam Rotella offers more details about these challenges and how they apply to fatty acids. But, we can say that olive oil, avocado oil and avocados are particularly powerful sources of oleic acid, with olive oil topping the list. That's not surprising. All three are mostly just fat.
The other items are less significant sources. But, you should still get sufficient oleic acid if you include them in your diet regularly.
Olive oil remains the best source of oleic acid – and it’s an easy way to get enough oleic acid each day. But, options like avocado oil, red meat, nuts and seeds are all powerful alternatives. These all contain other beneficial nutrients as well and help reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
This means that you can normally get enough oleic acid by relying on whole foods. Diets like paleo, keto and Mediterranean will also tend to be high in oleic acid, simply because of the foods that they contain.
If you are worried about your intake, try adding more avocados or olive oil to your daily diet.
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