Unsaturated fat

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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. This included:

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. Unsaturated fats also have a more enlarged shape than saturated fats.


Double bonds, depending on the geometry of the double bond, may be in either a:

Whereas 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.

Both mono- and polyunsaturated fats can replace saturated fat in the diet; trans unsaturated fats should be avoided. Substituting (replacing) saturated fats with unsaturated fats helps to lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the blood. Trans unsaturated fats are particularly bad 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.

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

Health effects

The proportion of dietary fat that is unsaturated fat with cis-trans isomerism such as omega-3 fatty acid and monounsaturated fats may be more important than the amount of dietary fat.[1]

Although unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats,[2] the old 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. Most food contain both unsaturated and saturated fats. Marketers only advertise one or the other, depending on which makes up the majority. Thus, various unsaturated fat vegetable oils, such as olive oils, also contain saturated fat.

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 [3]. 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 [4].

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 [5].

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[6]


  1. Hooper L, Martin N, Abdelhamid A, Davey Smith G (2015). "Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (6): CD011737. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011737. PMID 26068959.
  2. BBC Health, retrieved June 6, 2007.]
  3. Dariush Mozaffarian (2004). "Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 80 (5): 1175&ndash, 1184. PMID 15531663.
  4. 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&ndash, 104. PMID 2303916.
  5. LH Storlien (1996). "Dietary fats and insulin action". Diabetologica. 39 (6): 621&ndash, 631. PMID 8781757.
  6. AJ Hulbert (2003). "Life, death and membrane bilayers". The Journal of Experimental Biology. 206: 2303&ndash, 2311. PMID 12796449.

See also

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