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Polyunsaturated fat

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Polyunsaturated fats are lipids in which the constituent hydrocarbon chain possesses two or more carbon–carbon double bonds.[1][2] Polyunsaturated fat can be found mostly in nuts, seeds, fish, seed oils, and oysters.[1] "Unsaturated" refers to the fact that the molecules contain less than the maximum amount of hydrogen (if there were no double bonds). These materials exist as cis or trans isomers depending on the geometry of the double bond.

Saturated fats have hydrocarbon chains which can be most readily aligned. The hydrocarbon chains in trans fats align more readily than those in cis fats, but less well than those in saturated fats. In general, this means that the melting points of fats increase from cis to trans unsaturated and then to saturated. See the section about the chemical structure of fats for more information.

Chemical structure of the polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid.
3D representation of linoleic acid in a bent conformation.
Chemical structure of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega−3 fatty acid.

The position of the carbon-carbon double bonds in carboxylic acid chains in fats is designated by Greek letters.[1] The carbon atom closest to the carboxyl group is the alpha carbon, the next carbon is the beta carbon and so on. In fatty acids the carbon atom of the methyl group at the end of the hydrocarbon chain is called the omega carbon because omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega-3 fatty acids have a double bond three carbons away from the methyl carbon, whereas omega-6 fatty acids have a double bond six carbons away from the methyl carbon. The illustration below shows the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid.

While it is the nutritional aspects of polyunsaturated fats that are generally of greatest interest, these materials also have non-food applications. Drying oils, which polymerize on exposure to oxygen to form solid films, are polyunsaturated fats. The most common ones are linseed (flax seed) oil, tung oil, poppy seed oil, perilla oil, and walnut oil. These oils are used to make paints and varnishes.



Potential benefitsEdit

In preliminary research, omega-3 fatty acids in algal oil, fish oil, fish and seafood have been shown to lower the risk of heart attacks.[2][3] Other preliminary research indicates that omega-6 fatty acids in sunflower oil and safflower oil may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.[4]

Among omega-3 fatty acids, neither long-chain nor short-chain forms were consistently associated with breast cancer risk. High levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), however, the most abundant omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in erythrocyte (red blood cell) membranes, were associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.[5] The DHA obtained through the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids is positively associated with cognitive and behavioral performance.[6] In addition DHA is vital for the grey matter structure of the human brain, as well as retinal stimulation and neurotransmission.[1]

Dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids is under preliminary research to assess the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (motor neurone disease).[7][8]

The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids as established by comparative studies shows an omega-6:omega-3 ratio under 4:1 may influence health.[9]

Contrary to conventional advice, an evaluation of evidence from 1966-1973 pertaining to the health impacts of replacing dietary saturated fat with linoleic acid found that participants in the group doing so had increased rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.[10] Although this evaluation was disputed by many scientists,[11] it fueled debate over worldwide dietary advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats.[12]


Polyunsaturated fat supplementation does not decrease the incidence of pregnancy-related disorders, such as hypertension or preeclampsia, but may increase the length of gestation slightly and decreased the incidence of early premature births.[1]

Expert panels in the United States and Europe recommend that pregnant and lactating women consume higher amounts of polyunsaturated fats than the general population to enhance the DHA status of the fetus and newborn.[1]


Results from observational clinical trials on polyunsaturated fat intake and cancer have been inconsistent and vary by numerous factors of cancer incidence, including gender and genetic risk.[3] Some studies have shown associations between higher intakes and/or blood levels of polyunsaturated fat omega-3s and a decreased risk of certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer, while other studies found no associations with cancer risk.[3][13]

Food sourcesEdit

Food sources of polyunsaturated fats include:[1][14]

Food source (100g) Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Walnuts 47
Canola Oil 34
Sunflower seeds 33
Sesame Seeds 26
Chia Seeds 23.7
Unsalted Peanuts 16
Peanut Butter 14.2
Avocado Oil 13.5 [15]
Olive Oil 11
Safflower Oil 12.82[16]
Seaweed 11
Sardines 5
Soybeans 7
Tuna 14
Wild Salmon 17.3
Whole Grain Wheat 9.7
Fat composition in different foods
Food Saturated Mono-
As weight percent (%) of total fat
Cooking oils
Canola oil 08 64 28
Coconut oil 87 13 00
Corn oil 13 24 59
Cottonseed oil[17] 27 19 54
Olive oil[18] 14 73 11
Palm kernel oil[17] 86 12 02
Palm oil[17] 51 39 10
Peanut oil[19] 17 46 32
Rice bran oil 25 38 37
Safflower oil, high oleic[20] 06 75 14
Safflower oil, linoleic[17][21] 06 14 75
Soybean oil 15 24 58
Sunflower oil[22] 11 20 69
Mustard oil 11 59 21
Dairy products
Butterfat[17] 66 30 04
Cheese, regular 64 29 03
Cheese, light 60 30 00
Ice cream, gourmet 62 29 04
Ice cream, light 62 29 04
Milk, whole 62 28 04
Milk, 2% 62 30 00
*Whipping cream[23] 66 26 05
Beef 33 38 05
Ground sirloin 38 44 04
Pork chop 35 44 08
Ham 35 49 16
Chicken breast 29 34 21
Chicken 34 23 30
Turkey breast 30 20 30
Turkey drumstick 32 22 30
Fish, orange roughy 23 15 46
Salmon 28 33 28
Hot dog, beef 42 48 05
Hot dog, turkey 28 40 22
Burger, fast food 36 44 06
Cheeseburger, fast food 43 40 07
Breaded chicken sandwich 20 39 32
Grilled chicken sandwich 26 42 20
Sausage, Polish 37 46 11
Sausage, turkey 28 40 22
Pizza, sausage 41 32 20
Pizza, cheese 60 28 05
Almonds dry roasted 09 65 21
Cashews dry roasted 20 59 17
Macadamia dry roasted 15 79 02
Peanut dry roasted 14 50 31
Pecans dry roasted 08 62 25
Flaxseeds, ground 08 23 65
Sesame seeds 14 38 44
Soybeans 14 22 57
Sunflower seeds 11 19 66
Walnuts dry roasted 09 23 63
Sweets and baked goods
Candy, chocolate bar 59 33 03
Candy, fruit chews 14 44 38
Cookie, oatmeal raisin 22 47 27
Cookie, chocolate chip 35 42 18
Cake, yellow 60 25 10
Pastry, Danish 50 31 14
Fats added during cooking or at the table
Butter, stick 63 29 03
Butter, whipped 62 29 04
Margarine, stick 18 39 39
Margarine, tub 16 33 49
Margarine, light tub 19 46 33
Lard 39 45 11
Shortening 25 45 26
Chicken fat 30 45 21
Beef fat 41 43 03
Dressing, blue cheese 16 54 25
Dressing, light Italian 14 24 58
Egg yolk fat[24] 36 44 16
Avocado[25] 16 71 13
Unless else specified in boxes, then reference is:[26]
* 3% is trans fats


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Essential Fatty Acids". Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid". Mayo Clinic. 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals". US National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. 2 November 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2017. 
  4. ^ Willett, Walter C (September 2007). "The role of dietary n-6 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease". Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8: S42–5. doi:10.2459/01.JCM.0000289275.72556.13. PMID 17876199. 
  5. ^ Pala, V.; Krogh, V; Muti, P; Chajès, V; Riboli, E; Micheli, A; Saadatian, M; Sieri, S; Berrino, F (July 2001). "Erythrocyte membrane fatty acids and subsequent breast cancer: a prospective Italian study". Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 93 (14): 1088–95. doi:10.1093/jnci/93.14.1088. PMID 11459870. 
  6. ^ Van De Rest, O.; Geleijnse, J. M.; Kok, F. J.; Van Staveren, W. A.; Dullemeijer, C.; Olderikkert, M.G.M.; Beekman, A. T.F.; De Groot, C. P.G.M. (August 2008). "Effects of Fish Oil on cognitive performance in older subjects". Neurology. 71 (6): 430–38. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000324268.45138.86. PMID 18678826. 
  7. ^ Veldink, J H; Kalmijn, S; Groeneveld, G-J; Wunderink, W; Koster, A; De Vries, J H M; Van Der Luyt, J; Wokke, J H J; Van Den Berg, L H (April 2007). "Intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E reduces the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 78 (4): 367–71. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2005.083378. PMC 2077791 . PMID 16648143. 
  8. ^ Okamoto, Kazushi; Kihira, Tameko; Kondo, Tomoyoshi; Kobashi, Gen; Washio, Masakazu; Sasaki, Satoshi; Yokoyama, Tetsuji; Miyake, Yoshihiro; et al. (October 2007). "Nutritional status and risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in Japan". Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. 8 (5): 300–4. doi:10.1080/17482960701472249. PMID 17852010. 
  9. ^ Simopoulos (October 2002). "The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids". The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. National Institutes of Health. 56 (8): 365–79. doi:10.1016/S0753-3322(02)00253-6. PMID 12442909. 
  10. ^ Ramsden, C; Zamora, D; Leelarthaepin, B; Majchrzak-Hong, S; Faurot, K; Suchindran, C; Ringel, A; Davis, J; Hibbeln, J (February 2013). "Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis". BMJ Group. 346: e8707. doi:10.1136/bmj.e8707. PMC 4688426 . PMID 23386268. 
  11. ^ Interview: Walter Willett (2017). "Research Review: Old data on dietary fats in context with current recommendations: Comments on Ramsden et al. in the British Medical Journal". TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston. Retrieved 24 May 2017. 
  12. ^ Weylandt, K. H.; Serini, S; Chen, Y. Q.; Su, H. M.; Lim, K; Cittadini, A; Calviello, G (2015). "Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: The Way Forward in Times of Mixed Evidence". BioMed Research International. 2015: 143109. doi:10.1155/2015/143109. PMC 4537707 . PMID 26301240. 
  13. ^ Patterson, R. E.; Flatt, S. W.; Newman, V. A.; Natarajan, L; Rock, C. L.; Thomson, C. A.; Caan, B. J.; Parker, B. A.; Pierce, J. P. (2010). "Marine Fatty Acid Intake is Associated with Breast Cancer Prognosis". Journal of Nutrition. 141 (2): 201–206. doi:10.3945/jn.110.128777. PMC 3021439 . PMID 21178081. 
  14. ^ "National nutrient database for standard reference, release 23". United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2011. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "United States Department of Agriculture – National Nutrient Database". Sep 8, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Anderson. "Fatty acid composition of fats and oils" (PDF). UCCS. Retrieved April 8, 2017. 
  18. ^ "NDL/FNIC Food Composition Database Home Page". Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  19. ^ USDA → Basic Report: 04042, Oil, peanut, salad or cooking Retrieved on January 16, 2015
  20. ^ → Oil, vegetable safflower, oleic Retrieved on April 10, 2017
  21. ^ → Oil, vegetable safflower, linoleic Retrieved on April 10, 2017
  22. ^ → Oil, vegetable, sunflower Retrieved on September 27, 2010
  23. ^ USDA Basic Report Cream, fluid, heavy whipping
  24. ^ → Egg, yolk, raw, fresh Retrieved on August 24, 2009
  25. ^ "09038, Avocados, raw, California". National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  26. ^ "Feinberg School > Nutrition > Nutrition Fact Sheet: Lipids". Northwestern University. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20.