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What Are Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids?

Nov 22, 2009

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are fatty acids that contain more than one double bond chain of carbon atoms. Fatty acids supply energy for the muscles, heart and other organs. They also aid in the formation of cell membranes, and supply energy for the storage of fat. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are "good" fatty acids that have many health benefits when used to replace saturated fatty acids.

The Difference Between Unsaturated and Saturated Fatty Acids

The word fat comes with a list of negative connotations. However, there are fats and fatty acids that can help lower your LDL or bad cholesterol level and improve your overall heart health. All fatty acids are made up of a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Saturated fatty acids are saturated with hydrogen atoms meaning that each carbon atom is linked with a hydrogen atom. Consuming a large amount of saturated fats poses great health risks. Saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. Unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, have missing hydrogen atoms. Fatty acids with only one pair of missing hydrogen atoms are known as monounsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are missing more than one pair of hydrogen atoms. These fatty acids have a variety of health benefits.

Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest type of fats. However, polyunsaturated fatty acids are better for you than saturated fatty acids. They have been shown to reduce LDL or bad cholesterol while increasing HDL or good cholestorel. Polyunsaturated fatty acids contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) like omega-3 and omega-6 acids. These are fatty acids that the body needs but can not produce. Essential fatty acids are critical components of cell membrane production. Polyunsaturated fatty acids also help regulate the production of prostaglandin, a substance that help the body's inflammatory functions. An added benefit of polyunsaturated fats is they release a hormone which sends a signal to the brain when you are full. This prevents overeating and can aid in weight loss. When eaten in moderation and as part of a diet high in fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Sources of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in seafood like wild salmon and halibut. Certain plant oils are other great sources of EFAs. Sunflower-seed, corn, sesame, soy and safflower oil contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Peanut butter, walnuts, soybeans and grains are other ways to get your daily dose of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids as Part of a Low Fat Diet

Studies suggest that if you replace foods high in saturated fats with sources of polyunsaturated fats, you can help improve your health. However, the key is moderation. The right fats are an essential part of any diet, but over-consumption can lead to a number of health problems. It is critical to consume the recommended amount of polyunsaturated fats as part of a diet loaded with healthy grains and fruits and vegetables.

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