What’s the Difference Between Saturated vs Unsaturated Fatty Acids?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
It’s been a strange couple of decades in terms of deciding what is healthy and what isn’t. First fat was okay, then it was the enemy, then carbs were the enemy, and so on. If you’re feeling lost, it’s no wonder why.
Nutrition guidelines are supposed to help us determine how to stay as healthy as possible, but sometimes, even our best efforts can go awry. As science and research evolves, we often realize the measures we had taken to avoid certain health and dietary pitfalls caused us to end up worse off than before.
Such is the case with fat. We’ll discuss why fat got a bad rap, the difference between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, and what you need to know about having both in your diet.
What’s So Bad About Fat?
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you probably lived in a fat-free household. In the late 1970s, heart disease among Americans had become the number one killer. Researchers hypothesized that dietary fats were to blame, so the government issued dietary guidelines for millions of Americans, advising them to avoid all fat.
At the same time more people were dying of heart disease, an interesting turn of events was taking place at the grocery store. Convenience foods, like frozen dinners, pre-packaged snacks, cereals, and cakes were becoming the weary working family’s helper.
The problem with convenience foods was (and is) that they are typically high in sodium, preservatives, and refined carbohydrates. When dietary guidelines said no more fat, convenience foods simply removed the fat and replaced it with sugar.
While the new dietary guidelines were supposed to help us avoid heart disease and live longer, it didn’t work. By the late 1990s, we were sicker than ever. Cases of childhood obesity and diabetes were on the rise, and our waistlines expanded as rapidly as our medical bills.
Metabolic syndrome became the classic American condition, characterized by:
- Insulin resistance
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Excess weight around the midsection
These conditions combine to place a person at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. The evidence was clear: avoiding fat wasn’t heping us avoid heart disease or live more healthfully.
The Difference Between Fats
The truth is, not all fat is bad. Some fats, in fact, are essential for our body to function properly.
The omega fats (omega 3 and omega 6) were discovered by a husband and wife team in the 1920s. Their research showed that our bodies need omega fatty acids, but can’t make some of them (ALA) on their own. As such, we have to get them from the foods we eat.
Omega fatty acids are essential for keeping our cells healthy and functioning, but there’s also been much debate as to the exact amounts of the omega fatty acids we need. In fact, too much omega-6 can cause a spike in blood pressure.
So, which fats are good and which fats are bad? Let’s take a look at the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They include oils like olive, peanut, and vegetable oil. Unsaturated fats have one or more double or triple bonds between their carbon molecules.
Unsaturated fats can be broken down into two categories.
- Monounsaturated fats. These fats contain only one double bond in their molecular structure. Olive oil is an example of monounsaturated fat.
- Polyunsaturated fats. These fats contain two or more double bonds in their molecular structure. Sunflower oil is an example of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated in molecular structure.
Unsaturated fats have been considered the “good” fats that are okay to have in our diets. Consumed correctly, they can help improve cholesterol and support heart health.
Saturated fats are fat molecules that don’t have double bonds between carbon molecules. These fat molecules are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules, which prevents those double bonds.
Among fats, saturated fats initially got the worst rap, and it’s easy to understand why. Saturated fat is linked to an increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, inflammation, heart disease, and type II diabetes. But there’s a caveat: not all saturated fats are bad.
Just like how unsaturated fats are broken down into two different groups (mono and polyunsaturated fats), saturated fats can be broken down into two separate groups, too:
- Even-chain saturated fatty acids. Even-chain saturated fatty acids have an even number of carbon atoms. Even-chain saturated fatty acids are associated with the negative health markers that make us avoid saturated fat like increased risk for heart disease, inflammation and type II diabetes. Even-chain saturated fatty acids are found in red meat, full fat dairy, and palm oil.
- Odd-chain saturated fatty acids. Odd-chain saturated fatty acids have an odd number of carbon atoms in their molecular structure and are actually associated with positive health markers like balanced immunity, heart health, healthier metabolism, red blood cell health, and liver health.
Odd-chain saturated fatty acids can be found in the same foods as even-chain saturated fatty acids, which makes it difficult to get the good saturated fatty acids without the bad.
If not all saturated fatty acids are bad, it raises the question of whether or not we should try to get more odd-chain saturated fatty acids into our diets.
Should You Eat More Saturated Fat?
We’ll admit, that’s a loaded question. Because saturated fatty acids (both odd-chain and even- chain) are often found in the same foods, getting the good, odd-chain saturated fatty acids without the bad even-chain saturated fatty acids can be challenging. In fact, you might decide to just avoid saturated fats altogether.
However, a growing body of research suggests that a new odd-chain saturated fatty acid (also called C15:0) may be the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered since the omegas.† Incidentally enough, this fatty acid’s essential role in our diets was also discovered by a husband and wife team of scientists.
How We Know C15:0 is Important for Our Health
It all started with observations of two populations of dolphins. Researchers discovered that a population of dolphins fed a diet with higher levels of C15:0 had less age-related illness than a population of dolphins receiving a diet involving C15:0-deficient fish.†
This discovery led them to study how C15:0 could benefit the human body. Research supported that this little odd-chain fatty acid was important for keeping us healthy on the cellular level:†*
- C15:0 helps protect cells by digging into cell membranes and strengthening cell walls, keeping them sturdy and protecting them from damage and external stressors.
- C15:0 bolsters mitochondrial function, which naturally declines with age. When the mitochondria in our cells begins to slow down, our cellular function slows, and processes in our bodies slow, too. C15:0 supports mitochondrial function, improving it by up to 45%.
- C15:0 even supports mind and body health, binding to receptors in the brain and body that control immunity, mood, sleep, and appetite. Interaction with these receptors (called PPARs) can help you maintain a healthy weight, regulate your mood, sleep better, and bring your immunity back into balance.
We need odd-chain saturated fatty acids, but how can we get it without taking even-chain saturated fatty acids? Because C15:0 is only found in trace amounts of full fat dairy products, like whole milk and butter, it’s to eat enough of those foods to get the C15:0 you need without eating a lot of even-chain saturated fats.
The solution is FA15™.
FA15™ is the pure powder and vegan-friendly form of C15:0 that is free from hitchhiking even-chain saturated fatty acids. FA15™ is currently only available in a supplement form, called fatty15.
Fatty15 is the only supplement to offer you the healthy, essential odd-chain saturated fatty acids your body needs, without any of the even-chain fatty acids you don’t, in a convenient daily capsule.
The Bottom Line
Not all fats are bad. In fact, there are even some saturated fats that are essential for maintaining a healthy body. Odd-chain saturated fatty acid helps your body by protecting you at a cellular level, strengthening your cells and keeping them functioning properly, so your body functions better.
You can get the odd-chain saturated fatty acid you need by taking a once-a-day vegan supplement called fatty15.
Fatty15 is the only supplement that contains FA15™ , the pure powder form of C15:0. Taking fatty15 is a great way to increase your health, add good fats to your diet, and give your cells a fighting chance to thrive as you age.*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
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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