Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and Dietary Fat

Frequently Asked Questions


What is dietary fat?


A. "Dietary fat" is all the fat we consume in our diet - and, believe it or not, some dietary fat is actually good for us!


Dietary fat, also known as dietary lipid, includes Triglycerides, Phospholipids, Free Fatty Acids, and Sterols (cholesterol and phytosterols).

There are "good" and "bad" fats. Dietary fat - especially saturated fat and trans-fatty acids - has developed a bad reputation in recent years as a factor contributing to cardiovascular disease. However, a certain amount of dietary fat and Essential Fatty Acids are critical for optimal growth and functioning.


What good is dietary fat?


A. Some of the good things that dietary fat does for us:


  • Dietary fat is the primary constituent of all our cell membranes.
  • Dietary fat is necessary for the synthesis of a number of important hormones including sex hormones (estrogen, androgen, and progesterone), and adrenocortical hormones.
  • Dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  •  Dietary fat is the chief storage form of energy in the body. Fats can be efficiently stored within the body, and provide more than two times the amount of energy (in the form of calories) than carbohydrates.
  • Dietary fat plays an important role in the maintenance of body temperature. The layer of fat found under the skin acts to insulate the body from extremes in temperature, acting as an internal climate control. In addition, fat surrounds, cushions, and protects the body's vital organs from physical shock.


What are fatty acids?


A. Fatty acids are the basic building blocks for all lipids...


Fatty acids are the nutritional components found in dietary fats and oils, and are chemical "chains" consisting of carbon and hydrogen, and ending with an acid group. Fatty acids vary in length and degree of saturation, and are generally up to 26 carbons long. The specific chemistry of the fatty acid, including the number of carbons and double bonds, will affect how it functions in the body, including its health benefits.


What are saturated fats?


A. Saturated fats are a "bad" form of fatty acid...


Saturated fatty acids result when all carbons in the chemical chain are "saturated" with hydrogen. This means that the fat molecule does not contain any double bonds. Saturated fats are dense, solid fats that do not melt at room temperature - for example, the white fat in beef and lamb. These are the so-called "bad" fats that are known to contribute to cardiovascular disease when consumed in excess.

Saturated Fats

What are unsaturated fats?


A. Unsaturated fats are the "good" forms of fatty acids...


Unsaturated fatty acids result when not all carbons in the chemical chain are saturated with hydrogen. This means that the fat molecule contains one or more double bond. The double bonds create "kinks" in the molecule, producing a fat that is fluid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are known as "good" fats because they help cellular function and promote heart health.


There are two types of unsaturated fatty acids:


  1. Monounsaturates - fatty acids that contain one double bond. These fats are fluid at room temperature. For example, oleic acid, which is found in olive and sesame oils.
  2.  Polyunsaturates - fatty acids that contain more than one double bond. These are the most fluid fats of all and include fats such as corn, soybean, and sunflower oils. Essential Fatty Acid oils also fall into this category.


What are triglycerides?


A. A triglyceride is a grouping of three fatty acids attached together by glycerol. This is the way most fatty acids are stored in the body...


Both Saturated and Unsaturated fats are usually consumed in the form of triglycerides, which consist of three fatty acids bound to a glycerol backbone. The attached fatty acids can either be the same or different. The presence of saturated fatty acids will result in a saturated fat; similarly, the presence of one or more unsaturated fatty acids will result in an unsaturated fat.


In the human diet, Triglycerides are by far the most abundant form of dietary lipids, constituting approximately 95% of total fat consumed. The remaining 5% is in the form of phospholipids, free fatty acids (fatty acids not bound to a glycerol backbone), cholesterol, and plant sterols. In addition, triglycerides are the predominant storage form of fat in the body.

Disclaimer: This information is provided in good faith as educational material. It is the customer's responsibility to check the suitability of the material under FDA (DSHEA), HPB, and/or any other rules regarding the use of this material.