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types of fatty acids

Triglycerides are the main form of fat in our bodies and in our diets. They provide us with energy, insulation, and protect our internal organs from damage. They also enable our bodies to metabolize proteins and carbohydrates more efficiently. Despite the many benefits triglycerides have, too much in our blood circulation can cause major health problems, such as heart disease. Knowing the right fats to eat can help reduce overall cholesterol levels and help us to maintain a healthy body. Triglycerides can be further divided into the following categories:

types of fatty acids

Saturated fats

These are considered the most detrimental to your health. They usually are solid at room temperature and are derived from animal products. When looking at their molecular structure, saturated fats contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms (hence "saturated" with hydrogen atoms). Eating a diet high in these has been strongly correlated to heart disease.

Monounsaturated fats

This type of lipid lowers "bad cholesterol", LDL, and leaves the "good cholesterol" HDL levels the same. These are usually liquid at room temperature. When looking at their molecular structure, there are two hydrogen atoms missing with a double bond between two carbon atoms replacing them. Monounsaturated fats include canola oil and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats

This type of fat tends to lower both LDL and HDL levels (remember--we want to keep high levels of HDL). These are liquid at room temperature and typically have more than two hydrogen atoms missing. Polyunsaturated fats include safflower oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.

Essential fatty acids

These must be obtained through your diet in order to maintain the architecture of cell membranes. They are also used as a component in the production of eicosanoids, a type of hormone used by the body to help regulate blood pressure, blood clot formation, and immune function.

Hydrogenated fats

During hydrogenation, hydrogen atoms are added back to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats to protect against rancidity from bacteria or air exposure. As a consequence, this process causes hydrogenated fats to become saturated fats. If a food label states the words partially hydrogenated oils among its first ingredients, that means that it contains alot of trans-fatty acids and saturated fats.

Trans-fatty acids

In nature, most unsaturated fats are cis-fatty acids. During hydrogenation, the molecular structure changes from cis- to trans-fatty acids. These fats increase LDL levels and decrease HDL levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease.

The Omega-6 fatty acid family

This is also a group of essential fatty acids that includes linolenic acid. Common sources include vegetable oils, meats, grains, seeds, and vegetables. There is a supplement of linolenic acid available at your local pharmacy for people who feel they do not get enough of this through their diet.

How Cholesterol Works