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What are Polyunsaturated Fats?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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Many people believe that consuming fats are bad for you. While this is partially true, it is not completely accurate. Some fats, such as lard and some margarines, are saturated fats, which can be detrimental to your health. Other fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can actually be good for you. Polyunsaturated fats are those fats that have less hydrogen in their chemical structure than a saturated fat.

A fatty acid’s chemical structure is composed of hydrogen and carbon. A saturated fatty acid has single bonds between its carbon atoms and carries the maximum amount of hydrogen they are able to hold. A polyunsaturated fat has double bonds between some of its carbon atoms, meaning there are fewer hydrogen atoms than that of a saturated fat. It is this chemical characteristic that gives a polyunsaturated fat its relatively low melting point. The chemical structure also means that these fats tend to go rancid easily.

Polyunsaturated fats can be naturally found in many products. Vegetable oils and fish are two such sources. Fatty fish, such as salmon, are packed with a particularly important polyunsaturated fat known as an Omega 3 fatty acid. Though essential to the body, this fat is not produced by the body. Instead, it must be obtained from outside sources.

Scientists recommend eating polyunsaturated fats because they can help a person’s health. These fats can increase good cholesterol while decreasing bad cholesterol. In other words, polyunsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many people now cook with vegetable oil instead of a saturated fat, such as lard.

Not all unsaturated fats are good for you, however. Unsaturated fats usually remain liquid and unstable at room temperature, but there is a process that can make it more stable: hydrogenation. This is the process used to make margarine. A partially hydrogenated fat, sometimes called a trans fat, is an unsaturated fat that has had hydrogen added to it to make it more stable. These types of fats tend to remain solid at room temperature, just like a saturated fat.

Trans fats have been shown to be detrimental to a person’s health. These fats can cause a decrease in good cholesterol and an increase in bad. This process can lead to health problems, such as cardiovascular disease. For this reason some countries, including Denmark, have moved to ban trans fats. In other countries, including the United States, trans fats are being phased out from many fast food chains, even though many states do not require them to.

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Discussion Comments
By anon325026 — On Mar 13, 2013

Polyunsaturated fats very clearly promote things like tumor growth, necrosis of heart tissue, and liver damage. It seems silly to refer to them as "healthy."

By sneakers41 — On May 12, 2011

@Icecream17 - I always look for foods with polyunsaturated fats like fish and almonds because they are filling and are really healthy for my heart.

I always cook my food in olive oil but, I recently read that olive oil loses its nutrient value if it is heated. I like the taste of the olive oil so I will continue, but I will also use some olive oil in my salad so that I could still get the heart healthy benefits.

By icecream17 — On May 10, 2011

I have to say that I am glad that more manufacturers and restaurants are labeling their food and eliminating Tran’s fats from their menu.

I know that in New York City restaurants label all of the nutritional value for all of the food that is served and they were one of the first cities to ban Trans fats.I think that this is great because the food still tastes good and now we know that the food is actually healthier.

I know that some fast food restaurants worried about removing the Trans fat from their fries, but they actually taste just as good. I just still have to rememember to have the fries once in a while because it still has fat.

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