Lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates are the major three components of animal and plant tissues. Lipids include a variety of sources of energy for the human body, including fats and triglycerides. Fatty acids, a major component of lipids, provide up to 30% of human energy and are an important component of cell membranes. Fats are stored in the body as a future energy source.
Essential fatty acids cannot be made in humans because of the absence of the necessary enzymes to make them. These fatty acids must be received through the diet (such as linoleic or omega-6 and alpha-linolenic acids or omega-3). Fatty acids, whose production depends on fatty acid intake, are EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which are present in oily fish.
Current diet trends include an increased intake of saturated animal fats and a reduced intake of plant and marine unsaturated fats. Saturated fatty acids are produced by mammals. Dietary sources of saturated fatty acids are animal products, butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil. Saturated fats are associated with some negative health effects, such as cardiovascular disease risk.
Short chain saturated fatty acids (SCFA) are the result of fermentation in the bowel and include acetic, propionic and butyric acids. Saturated fatty acids increase water, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate absorption in the colon. MCT oils (medium chain triglycerides) are used for people who need nutritional support and have problems digesting other fats. Trans fats have negative health effects. On the other hand, conjugated fats, such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are beneficial.
Unsaturated fatty acids come from olive oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, algae oil, and fish oils. Unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are believed to be protective of health.
Other fatty acids include triacylglycerols, phospholipids, cholesteryl esters, and non-esterified fatty acids. Phospholipids (phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and sphingomyelin) are important in the health of cell membranes, by promoting flexibility.
CONCLUSION: Fatty acids are important to health, and the types of fats eaten can alter one’s health. Trans fats should be avoided and, fortunately, are becoming illegal in processed foods. DHA and EPA are important to consume during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the baby’s health. Fish oil is important to most people to prevent inflammation.
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NOTE: Read about trans fatty acids.