Saturated And Unsaturated Fatty Acids - What Are They?

Unless you live the life of a hermit or are extremely diet conscious, the chances are we will be ingesting a lot of saturated and unsaturated fatty acid. Conventional wisdom has it that as far as food intake goes, unsaturated fatty acids are better than saturated fatty acids. So what are saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and which food contains saturated fat and which contains the unsaturated? To live a healthy life we need to know the answers to these basic questions.

Saturated Fat Or Fatty Acid

First let us take a look at saturated fat. Saturated fatty acid is a type of fat that contains triglycerides which contain only saturated fatty acids. These fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. This causes the chain of carbon atoms to become fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. Different saturated fatty acids can have different number of carbon atoms, varying from 3 up to 36.

Fatty acids generally contain various proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat. Foods that are high in saturated fat may be from animal or vegetable fats. Foods that contain a high proportion of saturated fat from animal fats are:

- cream,




-suet and


-as well as fatty meats.

Those Vegetable fats which have high content of saturated fats are:

-coconut oil,

-palm kernel oil,

-chocolate etc.

Unsaturated Fat Or Fatty Acid

Unsaturated fat or fatty acid has at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. It is called monounsaturated if it contains one double bond and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond. The formation of double bonds eliminates the hydrogen atoms. Therefore, saturated fatty acids, which contain no double bonds has the maximum number of hydrogen atoms boned to the carbon. In metabolism, unsaturated fat molecules contain lesser calories than a comparable amount of saturated fat. However, unsaturated fats are prone to rancidity and can cause food poisoning.

Antioxidants can protect unsaturated fat from becoming rancid. Examples of foods containing unsaturated fats are:

- avocado,

-nuts and vegetable oils such as canola and olive oils.

Meat products contain a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated Vs. Unsaturated Fats - Health Comparison

Now that we know what saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are, we can compare them from the health angle. Research has shown that by replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fatty acids in our diets, helps in lowering cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in blood. However it is pertinent to note that trans-unsaturated fat should be avoided as it allows fat molecules to form plaque deposits in our blood vessels.

Although unsaturated fatty acid is considered to be safer it should not be consumed in unlimited amounts. The US FDA has recommended that a maximum of 67 grams of unsaturated fat is the upper limit in a 2000 calorie diet. This is roughly about 30% on the daily intake of calories. The saturated fat intake has to be limited to 10% of daily calorie intake and in high risk groups it is restricted to 7%.

Studies have shown that Insulin resistance is lowered with diets higher in monounsaturated fats, while a diet high in polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats have the opposite effect. There is a strong correlation between saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease. High levels of triglycerides, LDL or low levels of HDL increase the risk factor of heart problems and strokes. Research has established a link between saturated fats and certain types of cancers such as breast, ovarian, prostrate, small intestine cancers. There is evidence that saturated fat intake can adversely affect bone health.

As you can see, given the option, unsaturated fatty acids are better for health than saturated fatty acids. There are recommended daily limits for both and they should not be exceeded. Processed foods generally contain more saturated fat. This is because saturated fat is more stable and will have a longer shelf life. If you are not a diet conscious type of person, then stick to moderation in your food intake. If you are given an option between foods containing saturated and unsaturated fat, stick to the latter.

Learn portion control while eating. It is easier and better to stay thin than try to loose fat. Do moderate exercise and ensure that you get some amount of sunshine. Drink plenty of fluids. Remember health is wealth.

19.10.2011. 06:55


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