Fat facts

In this section:

Saturated fatty acids
Monounsaturated fatty acids
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
8 reasons we like Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats
More information on Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fats
More information on Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats
The chemistry / technical part

Saturated fatty acids

  • Saturated fats are most often animal fats which are often solid or hard at room or refrigerator temperatures.  They have high melting points. 
  • Sources of saturated fats: Meat, milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream and some vegetable products especially coconut oil, coconut milk and palm oil.

Monounsaturated fatty acids

  • Monounsaturated fats have lower melting points and are liquid at room temperature. They may solidify or go cloudy in the refrigerator.  These are found mainly in vegetable oils and nuts.
  • Sources of monounsaturated fats: Olive oil and avocado.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids

  • Polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids which you need from your diet as your body cannot make them.
  • Polyunsaturated fats have the lowest melting points. 
  • They are further divided into Omega 6 and Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats.
  • Sources of Omega 6: Sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils, grape seed, nuts and seeds.
  • Sources of Omega 3: Fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts, green vegetables.
Foods can have a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats in them.  Where they are listed as good sources of a particular fat it generally means the majority of the fat they contain is of that particular type.

8 reasons we like Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats

  1. Some studies show Omega 3s are associated with improved quality of life, reduced disease activity[1] and disability for people with multiple sclerosis [2] [3]
  2. They may reduce the frequency of relapses for people with multiple sclerosis[4].
  3. They lower cholesterol
  4. They make your blood less sticky which helps to prevent certain strokes and cardio vascular problems
  5. They are anti-inflammatory[5] [6]
  6. They appear to modulate immunity[7]
  7. They reduce the chance of getting diabetes[8] [9]
  8. They reduce the risk of certain cancers[10] [11] [12]

More information on Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fats

The three most nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

  • ALA is also the primary building block for EPA and DHA (see below).  Our immune, inflammatory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems need sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA.  ALA is also used directly for energy production. 
  • Good sources of ALA include flaxseed, sardines, salmon, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, green beans, romaine lettuce, fish, legumes and strawberries and, raspberries.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • EPA produces anti-inflammatory messenger molecules.  We cannot produce EPA ourselves so we need to eat food sources rich in EPA, such as fish.
 Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • DHA is particularly important to brain function, and DHA is found in our brains in significant quantities.  We cannot produce DHA ourselves so we need to eat food sources rich in DHA, such as fish, especially tuna oil.
Fish - farmed or wild?
Fish have an omega-3 content that is highly dependent on their diet. If they eat algae, sea plants and other foods rich in omega-3s, they are able to store more omega-3s in their tissue.  Some farmed fish are fed processed omega-3 concentrates to boost their omega-3 content, other farmed fish are fed few omega-3s and have lower-than average omega-3 content.
A note on canola oil
Canola oil is a combination of saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats.  It is made with a highly unnatural processing method that involves high heat, deodorisation and the toxic solvent hexane.  Significant amounts of trans fats are formed during this process.

More information on Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats

Linoleic acid
  • The main omega-6 essential fatty acid is linoleic acid. This is found in the oils of seeds and nuts, such as sunflower, safflower, soya, corn seeds, grape seeds, nuts and seeds.
Trans fats
Trans fats are made when liquid vegetable oils are "hardened" or "hydrogenated" to make them more stable and less prone to becoming rancid.  This increases the shelf life of a product.  Trans fats or hydrogenated fats are found in margarines, cooking oils for frying, shortening for commercial baking.
Trans fats interfere with Essential Fatty Acid absorption in your body and contribute to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Active measures are being taken by the government to reduce / eliminate trans fats from our foods.

Polyunsaturated oils, including the omega-3 fats, are extremely susceptible to damage from heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed to these elements for too long, the fatty acids in the oil become oxidised, a scientific term that simply means that the oil becomes rancid.  Rancidity alters the flavour and smell of the oil and it also reduces the nutritional value.

Look after your polyunsaturated oils in the following ways:
1. Buy cold pressed versions as high temperatures cause rancidity
2. Store in the fridge
3. Do not heat or keep heat as low as possible.  If you choose to cook with olive oil do not heat to the smoking point.
4. Keep out of sunlight
5. Store in dark glass or dark containers the sun cannot penetrate
6. Store in airtight containers

The chemistry / technical part

  • Fats are made up of the molecules carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  All fats have a carbon "back bone" and each carbon atom is linked to each other by a bond
  • Saturated fats: If all the carbon atoms in the backbone are connected to each other with single bonds = saturated fat.
  • Monounsaturated fats: If there is one double bond present between any of the carbon atoms = monounsaturated fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: If there is more than one double bond present between any of the carbon atoms = polyunsaturated fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are further divided into Omega 3 and Omega 6 poly unsaturated fats.
  • Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats/ Omega 3 fats: These have their first double bond at the third carbon from one end of the carbon backbone.
  • Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats: These have their first double bond at the sixth carbon from one end of the carbon backbone.
Always check with your Dr before changing your diet or supplementing.
Individuals who have disorders involving bleeding, who bruise very easily, who are planning on having surgery or who are taking blood thinners must consult with a medical practitioner before taking supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.
[1] Tettey P, Simpson S Jr, Taylor B, Blizzard L, Ponsonby AL, Dwyer T, Kostner K, van der Mei I An adverse lipid profile is associated with disability and progression in disability, in people with MS. Mult Scler. 2014 Nov;20(13):1737-44. doi: 10.1177/1352458514533162. Epub 2014 May 14.
[2] Jelinek GA, Hadgkiss EJ, Weiland TJ, Pereira NG, Mark CH, van der Meer DM. Association of fish consumption and omega 3 supplementation with quality of life, disability and disease activity in an international cohort of people with multiple sclerosis. Int J Neurosci, 2013 Nov; 123(11):792-800
[3] Weinstock-Guttman B, Baier M, Park Y, et al. Low fat dietary intervention with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in multiple sclerosis patients. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2005
[4] Hadgkiss EJ, Jelinek GA, Weiland TJ, et al.  The association of diet with quality of life, disability, and relapse rate in an international sample of people with multiple sclerosis. Nutritional Neuroscience 2014
[5] Heller A, Koch T. Immunonutrition with omega-3-fatty acids. Are new anti-inflammatory strategies in sight?. Zentralbl Chir 2000;125(2):123-36 2000. PMID:15830.
[6] Arita M, Bianchini F, Aliberti J, Sher A, Chiang N, Hong S, Yang R, Petasis NA, Serhan CN. Stereochemical assignment, antiinflammatory properties, and receptor for the omega-3 lipid mediator resolvin E1. J Exp Med. 2005 Mar 7;201(5):713-22. 2005. PMID:15753205.
[7] Calder PC. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cytokine production in health and disease.  Ann Nutr Metab 1997;41:203-34
[8] Popp-Snijders C, Schouten JA, Heine RJ, et al. Dietary supplementation of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids improves insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Diabetes Res 1987 Mar;4(3):141-7 1987. PMID:8990.
[9] Fickova M, Hubert P, Cremel G, Leray C. Dietary (n-3) and (n-6) polyunsaturated fatty acids rapidly modify fatty acid composition and insulin effects in rat adipocytes. J Nutr 1998 Mar;128(3):512-9 1998. PMID:8980.
[10] Wu M, Harvey KA, Ruzmetov N, Welch ZR, Sech L, Jackson K, Stillwell W, Zaloga GP, Siddiqui RA. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids attenuate breast cancer growth through activation of a neutral sphingomyelinase-mediated pathway. Int J Cancer. 2005 Nov 10;117(3):340-8. 2005. PMID:15900589.
[11] Stoll BA. n-3 fatty acids and lipid peroxidation in breast cancer inhibition. Br J Nutr 2002 March;87(3):193-8 2002.
Stoll BA. Essential fatty acids, insulin resistance, and breast cancer risk. Nutr Cancer. 1998;31(1):72-77. 1998.
[12] Bernard-Gallon DJ, Vissac-Sabatier C, Antoine-Vincent D et al. Differential effects of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene expression in breast cell lines. Br J Nutr 2002 Apr;87(4):281-9 2002. 


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