Fatty acids are aliphatic monocarboxylic acids found in plant and animal food sources in form of esters. Based on their bonding and chemical structure, they are divided in saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are further divided into mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
Unsaturated fatty acids
These fatty acids contain at least one double bond in the chain, and depending on the saturation, they can be mono-unsaturated, with one double bond, or poly-unsaturated, with two or more double bonds.
Both types are found mainly in plant-based foods. They are considered to be much healthier that saturated fatty acids, and in fact some of them can lower the bad cholesterol, elevate the good cholesterol and regulate the blood pressure, thus providing protection for heart disease.
Some examples of unsaturated fatty acids include linoleic acid, oleic acid, arachidonic acid, palmitoleic acid, and myristoleic acid.
Foods containing mono-unsaturated fatty acids include peanut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, avocadoes, almonds, cashews, peanuts, macadamia nuts and butter.
Sources of poly-unsaturated fatty acids include corn oil, soybean oil, sesame seeds, salmon, flaxseed, soybeans, sunflower seeds and fish.
Benefits of unsaturated fatty acids
Unsaturated fatty acids are considered to be much healthier compared to saturated fats, because molecules of saturated fatty acids bond with each other in the bloodstream, forming plaque that clogs the arteries.
The main benefit of unsaturated fatty acid is their ability to lower the cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
These fats also contain fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, E and D, which are necessary for human health. Vitamins A and E are powerful antioxidants, they boost the immune system and repair the damage due to free radicals. They also promote good blood circulation and prevent clogging of the arteries, while vitamin D promotes proper bone and teeth development and absorption of calcium.
Unsaturated fatty acids also improve brain development and function, provide energy necessary for many body functions, relieve asthma symptoms, reduce inflammation and thus help with symptoms of arthritis and other diseases, and also help with weight loss.
Although it is almost impossible to ban all saturated fats from the diet, it is recommended to try to substitute as much of them as possible with unsaturated fatty acid sources mentioned above, for example using olive oil for cooking and eating seeds and nuts as snacks, instead of packaged and processed foods like chips and cookies. In any case, FDA recommends that no diet should contain more than 30 percent of fats of any kind.