Oxidative modification of low density lipoprotein (LDL) is thought to play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis. Some studies have found that LDL enriched in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are less susceptible to oxidation than LDL enriched in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). A high MUFA diet is an alternative to a lower-fat blood cholesterol-lowering diet. Less is known about the effects of high MUFA versus lower-fat blood cholesterol-lowering diets on LDL oxidative susceptibility. The present study was designed to evaluate the effects of men and women consuming diets high in MUFA (peanuts plus peanut butter, peanut oil and olive oil) on LDL oxidative susceptibility, and to compare these effects with those of a Step II blood cholesterol-lowering diet. A randomized, double-blind, five-period crossover design (n = 20) was used to study the effects of the following diets on LDL-oxidation: average American [35% fat, 15% saturated fatty acids (SFA)], Step II (25% fat, 7% SFA), olive oil (35% fat, 7% SFA), peanut oil (35% fat, 7% SFA) and peanuts plus peanut butter (35% fat, 8% SFA). The average American diet resulted in the shortest lag time (57 +/- 6 min) for LDL oxidized ex vivo, whereas the Step II, olive oil and peanuts plus peanut butter diets resulted in a lag time of 66 +/- 6 min (P < or = 0.1). The slower rate of oxidation [nmol dienes/(min x mg LDL protein)] observed when subjects consumed the olive oil diet (24 +/- 2) versus the average American (28 +/- 2), peanut oil (28 +/- 2) and peanuts plus peanut butter diets (29 +/- 2; P < or = 0.05) was associated with a lower LDL PUFA content. The results of this study suggest that lower-fat and higher-fat blood cholesterol-lowering diets high in MUFA have similar effects on LDL oxidative resistance. In addition, our results suggest that different high MUFA sources varying in the ratio of MUFA to PUFA can be incorporated into a high MUFA diet without increasing the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation.