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What is a Fatty Acid? Types of Fatty Acids & Their Effects

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
  • There are three main groups of fatty acids: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids, which are distinguished by the way that their hydrogen and carbon atoms bond. 
  • Unsaturated fatty acids have long been considered the “good kind” of fat, but recent studies are showing that certain kinds of saturated fatty acids can be useful as well. 
  • Odd-chain saturated fatty acids like C15:0, found in fatty15, can help in boosting mitochondria, strengthening cell membranes, and more.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with fat.  Prior to the late 1970’s, no one really considered the amount of fat in their diets, the sources of the fat, or how it could affect their bodies.  The American family diet consisted largely of red meat, starchy vegetables laden with full fat butter, and large glasses of whole fat milk. 

There was just one problem: cardiovascular health was suffering.

Heart disease was affecting Americans in record numbers, and in an effort to combat this cardiovascular epidemic, the government issued broad and sweeping health guidelines.  In 1977, the government told us to eat less fat (especially saturated fat) to protect our hearts.  By 1980, official dietary guidelines were published that read the same way:  fat is bad for you, especially the saturated kind.

Just a few decades later, Americans had effectively exiled whole fat dairy products, opting instead for skim and 2% milk, and margarine.  There was a decrease in red meat consumption in the American diet, which was replaced by certain lean meats like chicken and pork. 

The problem was, this change in our diets did not effectively improve public health. Instead, we saw a rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease -- especially among women and younger people.

A 2015 study revealed that there may not have been enough evidence to criminalize all fat in the first place.  Maybe it was time to commute fat’s sentence, at least in part.  Thus, scientists began studying different types of fat, their chemical makeups, and how they impacted our health.

What Are Fatty Acids?

Dietary fat (the fat in our food) isn’t just a number on a nutrition label.  That number represents how many grams of a particular type of fatty acid is in our food. 

A fatty acid is differentiated by the chemical structure of the fat we eat, and the different types of fatty acids are determined by how the hydrogen and carbon atoms in the fatty acids bond to one another. 

There are three primary groups of fatty acids in our food:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Saturated fatty acids

Within these groups are even smaller groups.  Clearly, fat is more complex than we think.  In order to understand how fat plays a role in our nutrition, it’s important to learn about each type of fatty acid and determine whether or not it is beneficial in our diets. 

All fat isn’t bad, but all fat isn’t good either.

Ensuring we’re getting all the “good” fat we should without unknowingly taking in the “bad” fat along with it is key in making friends with fat.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

Considered one of the good guys, monounsaturated fatty acids are found in abundance in nuts, seeds, avocados, oils like sunflower, olive, and canola, and peanut butter. 

Monounsaturated fatty acids are linked with lowered LDL cholesterol, which is important for keeping your heart healthy.  Monounsaturated fats are also linked with keeping your cells healthy and ensuring their proper development. 

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

You’re likely very familiar with this family of fatty acids.  The polyunsaturated fats include both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.  These fatty acids (specifically, alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid) are both essential, which means our bodies need them to function properly, but our bodies cannot make them on their own.  We have to get these fatty acids from our food.

While the most popular and prevalent way of getting your omega fats into your diet has traditionally been to order a nice filet of salmon, you can now rely on fish oil supplements to get your recommended daily allowance.  Although fish oil supplements come with a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste, they’ve been highly successful in encouraging people to get enough omega fatty acids in their diets. 

The omega fatty acids are beneficial in many ways.  They support:

  • Heart health
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Healthy blood pressure
  • Brain function
  • Proper cell growth

Having these in your diet is imperative, but it’s also important to know you shouldn’t overdo it.  Too much omega-6 in your diet has been linked to undesirable health issues and an increase in inflammation. 

Saturated Fatty Acids

Saturated fat has been our enemy since those dietary guidelines were given in 1977.  Even as we’ve learned more about fat, we’ve still managed to vilify saturated fat in its entirety. 

The problem is that we’ve classified all saturated fat as bad fat. 

Yes, there are different types of saturated fatty acids.  Two, in fact, and while one type isn’t a great dietary option for anyone, a growing body of evidence supports that the other type is essential for all. 

Here’s a closer look at the two different types of saturated fatty acids.

Even-chain saturated fatty acids.  When we talk about saturated fatty acids and how the two types are different, we are referring to how many carbon atoms they carry.  If they carry an even number of carbon atoms, they’re even-chain saturated fatty acids. Even-chain saturated fatty acids (like C16:0) are associated with an increase in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation.  These are the fats that we should likely continue to avoid. Even-chain saturated fatty acids are found in whole dairy products, red meat, and meat products.

Odd-chain saturated fatty acids.  Odd-chain saturated fatty acids are so named because they carry an odd number of carbon atoms.  These fatty acids, especially C15:0 (also called pentadecanoic acid), are nothing like their even-chain cousins in terms of your health.  In fact, an increase in C15:0 has been associated with good health, like:*

  • Balanced immunity
  • Heart health
  • Healthy metabolism
  • Red blood cell health
  • Liver health

A growing body of evidence supports that C15:0 is the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years. Science has shown that C15:0 has the ability to help your body age more healthfully, starting with your cells.*  As our cells age, they begin to break down, becoming weak and fragile, and leaving us susceptible to age-related illness. 

C15:0 helps our cells age healthfully, and you can get your daily intake of C15:0 in a simple, science-backed supplement called fatty15.*† Fatty15 is the only way for you to get the pure powder and vegan-friendly form of C15:0 (FA15™) to your cells without bad saturated fats (like even-chains) hopping along for the ride.

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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Science supports that fatty15 works to keep your cells supported and healthy by:*

  • Strengthening cell membranes. Fatty15 is a sturdy fatty acid that acts as armor for our cells, protecting them against premature breakdown. 
  • Boosting mitochondria. Fatty15 keeps your mitochondria working hard.  As we age, our mitochondria become sluggish, decreasing our cell’s energy output and increasing cellular stress.  Fatty15 restores mitochondrial function, so our cells get the energy they need.
  • Advancing cellular homeostasis. Our immune system and metabolism can become unbalanced over time.  Fatty15 works to help keep our immune and metabolic systems functioning properly, so both our cells and our bodies remain balanced. 

Not all fat is bad, but because we’ve excluded so much of it from our diets (especially the odd-chain saturated fatty acids), we’ve missed out on vital health benefits that could have kept us feeling better and living longer.  It’s time to change the game and begin to gain the benefits of good fats that can keep us healthy and aging on our own terms. 

We have the opportunity to effectively change how we age, improve our overall health, and live longer, more healthful lives by adding a simple fatty acid back into our diets.* With the help of fatty15, you can give your cells the fighting chance they deserve to remain healthy as they age, which will help you feel better and be able to do the things you love to do, longer.*









Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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