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The Basics Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. They supply calories and help with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Some also are good sources of two essential fatty acids—linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid. All dietary fats are composed of a mix of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fatty acids, in varied proportions (Figure 1-2). For example, most of the fatty acids in butter are saturated, but it also contains some monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Oils are mostly unsaturated fatty acids, though they have small amounts of saturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats[20]) are found in greatest amounts in sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils; walnuts; pine nuts; and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds. Only small amounts of polyunsaturated fats are found in most animal fats. Omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats found in seafood, such as salmon, trout, herring, tuna, and mackerel, and in flax seeds and walnuts. EPA and DHA are long chain n-3 fatty acids found in seafood.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated fats) are found in greatest amounts in olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, and safflower oils, and in avocados, peanut butter, and most nuts. Monounsaturated fats also are part of most animal fats such as fats from chicken, pork, beef, and wild game.

Saturated fatty acids (saturated fats) are found in the greatest amounts in coconut and palm kernel oils, in butter and beef fats, and in palm oil. They also are found in other animal fats, such as pork and chicken fats and in other plant fats, such as nuts.

Trans fatty acids (trans fats) are unsaturated fats found primarily in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and foods containing these oils and in ruminant (animal) fats. They are structurally different from the unsaturated fatty acids that occur naturally in plant foods and differ in their health effects.

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