I have been talking about how long chain fatty acids are bad and how medium chain fatty acid containing oils such as coconut oils are good. The benefits or harmfulness of any oil is a function of its composition of fatty acids, its length of carbon chain, how susceptible it is to pre-oxidation and to generate free radicals.

In the same context I received an email yesterday from Bob Pats, California. Bob requested if I can write something where key composition of common fat sources we take usually can be provided at a single page. It is indeed useful info to have. Thanks Bob for suggestion and here is the info you requested.

Fats based on types of saturation

Fatty acids: These are chemical compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are used by body to generate energy. They are primarily categorized in three:

  • Saturated: This type has 2 hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom
  • Monosaturated: This type has 2 missing hydrogen atom
  • Polysaturated: More than 2 hydrogen atoms missing

Oils are composed of a composition of all the above three fatty acids, but in different proportions. No single source is pure in terms of composition (see table below).

Oils

% of Saturated

fats

% of Mono-saturated fats

% of Poly-saturated

fats

Coconut Oil

92

6

2

Sunflower Oil

11

20

69

Corn Oil

13

25

62

Soybean Oil

15

24

 61

Olive Oil

14

77

9

Beef fat

52

44

4

Palm Oil

51

39

10

Butter

66

30

4

Fats based on number of carbon in fatty acids

In this type of categorization, the parameter used to distinguish is number of carbon atoms in fatty acids which make the source. Again, a single source of fat, say butter, will have multiple types of fatty acids with various chain length. Based on length, fatty acids can be categorized into:

  • Short chain (fewer than 6 carbon atoms)
  • Medium chain (6-12 carbon atoms)
  • Long chain (13 and above carbon atoms)

Fatty Acids

Number of carbon atoms

Oils where present

Acetic

2

Vinegar

Caprylic

8

Coconut oil

Capric

10

Palm oil

Lauric

12

Coconut oil

Oleic

18

Olive Oil

Palmitic

16

Animal / vegetable oil

Stearic

18

Animal / vegetable oil

Linoleic

18

Vegetable oil

Alpha – Lineolenic

18

Linseed oil

Short chain fatty acids are rare while long chain fatty acids are most common. Long chain fatty acids are by far most company energy packets and make best storage fat in both plants and animals.

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