In fatty acids are referred to as saturated

In animal products, like lamb, pork and poultry, the type of fat that we commonly find here contain saturated fatty acids. In this lesson, we will learn all about saturated fatty acids, and show some examples for them.

What Are Saturated Fatty Acids?

Do you like pork and beef? Do you like putting butter on your bread and lots of cheese in your sandwiches? Butter, pork and beef are a few examples of food sources that contain saturated fatty acids.

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Food Containing Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fatty acid food sources

While there are food sources containing fatty acids that are good for our body, saturated fatty acids are something that we should limit ourselves from eating because it will not have a good effect on our health. If our diet has a high content of saturated fatty acids, it may lead to higher risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, and high cholesterol levels.Saturated fatty acids are compounds that contain a carboxylic acid group with a long hydrocarbon chain consisting of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms. A carboxylic acid is a compound that contains a carboxyl group (-COOH). The illustration below is an example of lauric acid, which is a saturated fatty acid. The carboxyl group (boxed in red), is located at the end of the chain.

As you can see in the picture, this fatty acid is saturated with hydrogen atoms because it contains no double bonds between carbon atoms in the hydrocarbon chain.

Lauric Acid
lauric acid

Another way to draw the fatty acid above – lauric acid – is illustrated below.

Instead of writing each carbon and hydrogen atom, they are replaced with a zigzag line. Each edge of the zigzag line represents a carbon atom.

Lauric Acid
Lauric Acid

Saturated fatty acids are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The general formula is shown in the following illustration. Here, the number of hydrogen (H) atoms (2n) is twice the number of the carbon (C) atoms (n) and there are always two oxygen (O) atoms.

General Formula of a Saturated Fatty Acid
Saturated Fatty Acid Examples

Oils used for cooking contain saturated fatty acids. To limit the saturated fatty acid content in our food, it is good to limit our use of cooking oil. It also helps to avoid frying food.

Coconut oil contains caprylic acid and capric acid. Sesame oil contains behenic acid.

Saturated Fatty Acid Examples

It is very hard to avoid meat, dairy and eggs, all of which contain saturated fatty acids – myristic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid. While these foods are hard to avoid, we need to eat them in a moderate amount because these three fatty acids contribute highly to raising blood cholesterol.

Saturated Fatty Acid Examples

Lesson Summary

Saturated fatty acids are compounds that consist of a hydrocarbon chain and a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) at the end of the chain. These fatty acids are referred to as saturated because the hydrocarbon chain is saturated with hydrogen atoms due to the absence of double bonds. Its general formula is CnH2nO2, where there are twice as many hydrogen atoms as there are carbon atoms, and there are always two oxygen atoms.

Many food sources have saturated fatty acids present in them, particularly, meat, dairy and poultry. Foods that are rich in saturated fatty acids should be taken in moderation because this will have negative health effects, like higher risk in heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol levels.

Learning Outcomes

You’ve finished this lesson, so now you should try to:

  • Explain what saturated fatty acids are and recognize their structure
  • Recall the general formula for saturated fatty acids
  • List some examples of saturated fatty acids and foods they are found in
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