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Types of fats in food
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An unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there are one or more double bonds in the fatty acid chain. A fat molecule is monounsaturated if it contains one double bond, and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond. Where double bonds are formed, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. Thus, a saturated fat is "saturated" with hydrogen atoms. In cellular metabolism hydrogen-carbon bonds are broken down – or oxidized – to produce energy, thus an unsaturated fat molecule contains somewhat less energy (i.e fewer calories) than a comparable sized saturated fat. The greater the degree of unsaturation in a fatty acid (ie, the more double bonds in the fatty acid), the more vulnerable it is to lipid peroxidation (rancidity). Antioxidants can protect unsaturated fat from lipid peroxidation.


Chemistry and nutrition

Amounts of fat types in selected foods (click to enlarge).

Double bonds may be in either a cis or a trans isomer, depending on the geometry of the double bond. In the cis conformation hydrogen atoms are on the same side of the double bond, whereas in the trans conformation they are on opposite sides (see also Trans fat). Saturated fats are popular with manufacturers of processed foods because they are less vulnerable to rancidity and are generally more solid at room temperature than unsaturated fats. Unsaturated chains have a lower melting point, hence increasing fluidity of the cell membranes.

Although both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can replace saturated fat in the diet, trans unsaturated fats should be avoided. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats helps to lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the blood. Trans unsaturated fats are particularly risky because the double bond stereochemistry allows the fat molecules to assume a linear conformation which leads to efficient packing (i.e., plaque formation). The geometry of the cis double bond introduces a bend in the molecule precluding stable formations (see specific fatty acid links above for drawings that illustrate this). Natural sources of fatty acids (see above) are rich in the cis isomer.

Although polyunsaturated fats are protective against cardiac arrhythmias, a study of post-menopauseal women with a relatively low fat intake showed that polyunsaturated fat was positively associated with progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas monounsaturated fat was not.[1] This probably is an indication of the greater vulnerability of polyunsaturated fats to lipid peroxidation, against which Vitamin E has been shown to be protective.[2]

Examples of unsaturated fats are palmitoleic acid, oleic acid, myristoleic acid, linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid. Foods containing unsaturated fats include avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils such as canola, and olive oils. Meat products contain both saturated and unsaturated fats.

Although unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats,[3] the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation stated that the amount of unsaturated fat consumed should not exceed 30% of one's daily caloric intake (or 67 grams given a 2000 Calorie diet). The new dietary guidelines have eliminated this recommendation at the request of the meat and dairy industries. Most foods contain both unsaturated and saturated fats. Marketers only advertise one or the other, depending on which one makes up the majority. Thus, various unsaturated fat vegetable oils, such as olive oils, also contain saturated fat.

Role of dietary fats in the prevention of prostate cancer

Insulin resistance correlates positively with monounsaturated fat (especially oleic acid) and negatively with polyunsaturated fat (especially arachidonic acid) in the phospholipids of human skeletal muscle.[4]

Membrane composition as a metabolic pacemaker

Cell membranes of mammals have a higher composition of polyunsaturated fat (DHA, omega-3 fatty acid) and a lower composition of monounsaturated fat than do reptiles. Higher polyunsaturated membrane content gives greater membrane fluidity (and functionality), commensurate with the higher metabolic rate of the warm-blooded species. In fish, however, increasingly cold environments lead to increasingly high cell membrane content of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, presumably to maintain greater membrane fluidity (and functionality) at the lower temperatures.[5]

Component in different foods


  1. ^ Dariush Mozaffarian (1 November 2004). "Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80 (5): 1175–1184. PMID 15531663.  
  2. ^ B Leibovitz (1990). "Dietary supplements of vitamin E, beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10 and selenium protect tissues against lipid peroxidation in rat tissue slices". The Journal of Nutrition 120 (1): 97–104. PMID 2303916.  
  3. ^ BBC Health, retrieved June 6, 2007.]
  4. ^ LH Storlien (1996). "Dietary fats and insulin action". Diabetologica 39 (6): 621–631. doi:10.1007/BF00418533. PMID 8781757.  
  5. ^ AJ Hulbert (2003). "Life, death and membrane bilayers". The Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 2303–2311. doi:10.1242/jeb.00399. PMID 12796449.  
  6. ^ a b c --> Egg, yolk, raw, fresh Retrieved on August 24, 2009
  7. ^ Feinberg School > Nutrition > Nutrition Fact Sheet: Lipids Northwestern University. Retrieved on August 24, 2009

See also

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Simple English

Unsaturated fat is a kind of fat. It is different from saturated fat in that it is liquid at room temperature while saturated fat is more solid. It contains double bonds whose molecules are made up of carbon atoms that are not fully saturated with hydrogen. There are two types:

  1. Monounsaturated; or those with one double bond
  2. Polyunsaturated; or with more than one double bond


Unsaturated fat is better for you than saturated fat. Some testing has shown that it can raise your HDL ("good" cholesterol.) [1] Unsaturated fat is also very important for a healthy brain.


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