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Benefits of Unsaturated Fats & Protein in a Diet

By Leigh Ann Morgan

Found in olive oil, vegetable oils, sunflower seeds and peanut oil, unsaturated fats do not have the same risks as saturated fats. Protein, found in red meat, poultry, nuts, seeds and some vegetables, is one of the essential nutrients the body needs to function properly. Consuming moderate amounts of protein and unsaturated fats has several benefits.

Increased HDL

Known as “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein seems to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. Low-density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol, increases the risk of artery blockages and cardiovascular complications. A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions showed that the replacement of carbohydrates with unsaturated fats in a heart-healthy diet increased good cholesterol levels. While the diet did not reduce bad cholesterol levels, it also lowered triglyceride levels and blood pressure. The results of this study appeared in the November 2005 issue of the “Journal of the American Medical Association.”

Decreased Cardiovascular Risks

The American Heart Association estimates that more than 81 million people had at least one form of heart disease as of 2006. These diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure and coronary heart disease. The Mayo Clinic reports that one type of unsaturated fat may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and lead to lower blood pressure levels. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods including walnuts and fatty fish, have a protective effect on the heart. This type of fat also reduces the risk of inflammatory diseases and some types of cancer, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.


Both protein and unsaturated fats serve as energy sources for the body. The difference is in how the body uses them. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service explains that the main function of protein is to maintain the structures of the body. If a person consumes more protein than needed for this function, the body uses the excess protein for energy. Whatever protein the body does not use for energy, it stores as fat. The Merck Manual Home Edition describes fats as the most energy-efficient food form, but fats are also the slowest source of energy.

Vitamin Absorption

Unsaturated fats help the body absorb vitamins known as fat-soluble vitamins. When someone consumes a fat-soluble vitamin, the body absorbs the vitamin and stores it in the fatty tissue. Because the body stores fat-soluble vitamins, it is possible to consume too much of them and develop the symptoms of vitamin toxicity. Examples of fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E.


Proteins provide structure for the bones and muscles, which helps to preserve the skeletal structure of the body. Unsaturated fats control a different type of structure – the cell wall. Each cell has a wall to support the cell, determine the shape of the cell, control the rate of cell growth and resist water pressure. Dr. Stephen G. Saupe of the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota explains that, without cell walls, the cell membrane would burst.

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