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8 Natural Fatty Acids in Foods That Are Good For You

Natural Fatty Acids in Foods That Are Heart-Healthy

Fatty acids are a type of fat that your body can’t synthesize.

Fatty acids in foods are commonly found in natural fats, they can be liquid or solid at room temperature depending on the carbon chain length of the fatty acid.

It is important to note that not all fatty acids are created equal. Some are good for you whereas others can be harmful to your health.

Fatty acids both free and as part of complex lipids are beneficial to human health.

The degree of saturation or unsaturation in a fatty acid chain is due to the presence of single bonds or double bonds in the hydrocarbon and they all play important key roles in our health, such as storage and transport of energy. Fatty acids are also essential components of all membranes, and they act as gene regulators.

Some natural fatty acids in foods are good for the heart, increases HDL cholesterol levels and reduces coronary risks.

This article goes over 10 different natural fatty acids in foods, sources and the benefits.

Let’s take a look at these natural fatty acids.

1. Lauric Acid

Lauric acid (C12:0) is a medium-chain triglyceride widely known as a healthier saturated fat. This saturated fatty acid consist of 12-carbon atom chain. Lauric acid is used as source of direct energy because the body processes them as carbohydrates. Found in abundance from natural resources it is cheap, has a long shelf-life, non-toxic and safe to handle. Like other fatty acids, lauric acid is also said to increase HDL cholesterol which helps to decrease atherosclerotic risk in the body.

Lauric acid sources: vegetable fats, particularly in palm kernel oil and coconut oil.

2. Butyric Acid

Butyric acid is a short-chain fatty acid that contains four carbon atoms. It is found naturally in the digestive tract, supports digestive health, reduces inflammation and lowers the risk of diseases. Butyric acid is the main energetic substrate of the colonocyte and stimulates the absorption of sodium and water in the colon and presents trophic action in the intestinal cells.

In addition, they modulate the immune response in the intestine. Butyric acid is present in butter, and it is the final product of fermentation of carbohydrates by the microorganisms of the intestine.

Some studies have shown that butyric acid helps reduce pain during defecation.

Butyric acid food sources: Butter, Cow milk, and Sheep milk.

3. Myristic Acid

Myristic acid (C14:0) is a long-chain SFA that is found in milk fat and tissues of animals. Moderate consumption of myristic acid from dairy fat increases HDL cholesterol and decreases triacylglyceride levels. This fatty acid stabilizes different proteins, including proteins used in the immune system. High amounts of myristic acid raises LDL cholesterol concentrations more than palmitic acid. Diets containing myristic acid can be balanced with carbohydrates.

Myristic acid food sources include: Nutmeg, Palm Kernel, Coconut Oil and Butter.

4. Palmitic Acid

Palmitic acid (C16:0), a naturally occurring fatty acid in vegetables as well as the main component of human milk fats. It is the most abundant fatty acid in palm oil, followed by oleic and linoleic acid. Palmitic acid can be synthesized endogenously by elongation of myristic acid (C14:0). Palmitic acid in palm oil increases LDL cholesterol to an extent similar to that of other oils that are however less rich in saturated fatty acids.

Various studies have reported that there was no association of palmitic acid with coronary heart disease when cholesterol esters and PLs levels of palmitic acid were increased.

Palmitic acid food sources: Palm oil, Meat and Butter.

5. Palmitoleic Acid

Palmitoleic acid is an unsaturated fatty acid in which the site of unsaturation is seven carbon atoms from the end of the carbon chain. Palmitoleic acid is not commonly found in food but is a product of palmitic acid metabolism in the body. Food sources include macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn oil extracted from the seed of the plant.

Palmitoleic acid is effective against a range of life-threatening disorders including cancer. It reduces insulin resistance, lowers blood glucose, suppresses fat buildup and normalises abnormal lipid profiles including raising beneficial HDL cholesterol.

6. Oleic Acid

Oleic acid (cis-9-octadecenoic acid) is an omega-9 fatty acid. This fatty acid is found in olive oil pressed from the ripe fruit of the olive. Oleic acid makes up 55% to 80% of olive oil, 15% to 20% of grape seed oil and sea buckthorn oil. Studies has shown that diets with oleic acid helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, cardio-metabolic risk, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Replacing dietary saturated fat by oleic acid prevents heart risk by reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Oleic acid food sources: Olive oil, Grape seed, Sea Buckthorn and Olive fruit.

7. Linoleic Acid

Linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) is the shortest chain n-6 fatty acid, mainly omega-6 fatty acid, a common PUFA in plant oils. Approximately 50% of omega-6 is present in cottonseed, corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower. Linoleic acid in the diet when consumed is converted through chain elongation and desaturation in the liver to longer-chain n-6 PUFAs such as arachidonic and docosapentaenoic acids. Arachidonic acid is essential for the synthesis of various hormones such as prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes.

Dietary Recommendations: Typical intakes of linoleic acid in the United States diet are 6% of energy. Although linoleic acid is an essential nutrient, no specific information is available on the amount of linoleic acid required to correct the symptoms of omega-6 PUFA deficiency.

Thus, a recommended daily allowance has yet to be established. As such, the dietary reference intakes for linoleic acid reports that the adequate intakes:

  • For women and men between the ages of 19 and 50 are 12g/d and 17g/d, respectively. The adequate intakes is based on approximate median intakes of healthy individuals in the US population. These amounts are modified to 11g/d and 14g/d for women and men, respectively, between the ages of 51 and 70.
  • The adequate intakes of linoleic acid for children 1–3years old is 7g/d and progressively increases in boys and girls as they grow into adulthood.
  • The adequate intakes for omega-6 PUFAs in infants is based on the levels of n-6 PUFAs found in breast milk along with the transition to complementary foods. These levels are 4.4g/d and 4.6 g/d for infants aged 0–6 months and 7–12 months, respectively.

The Scientific Advisory Board of the American Heart Association recommends intakes between 5% and 10% of energy for adults to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Linoleic acid sources: Canola Oil, Corn, Soyabean, Safflower, and Sunflower.

8. Alpha-Linolenic Acid

Alpha-linolenic acid (C18:3n-3), known as omega-3 is found in plant sources within green leafy tissues of plants, typically comprising over 50% of the fatty acids present.

Alpha-linolenic acid is also abundant in several seeds, seed oils and nuts. Linseeds and their oil contains about 45%–55% of alpha-linolenic acid. Soybean oil, rape-seed oil and walnuts contain 5%–10% of alpha-linolenic acid.

Recommended intakes of alpha-linolenic acid among western adults are between 0.5g and 2g/day. The present dietary reference intakes states that to achieve nutritional adequacy, alpha-linolenic acid should provide 0.6%–1.2% of energy with up to 10%.

Recommendations by the European Commission for fatty acid composition in infant formulas require that alpha-linolenic acid should be included at levels of at least 50mg–100mg/100 kcal.

Studies on the effects of omega-3 on cardiovascular diseases has shown that regular consumption of foods containing alpha-linolenic acid may help to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, decrease bad cholesterol, lessen heart attacks and stroke.

Alpha-linolenic acid food sources: Flaxseed, Soyabean oil and Walnuts.


All these natural fatty acids in foods are good and heart healthy in the diet. Several studies conducted on the effects of these fatty acids on cardiovascular conditions showed there was no association between them. It is important to incorporate dietary fats with carbohydrates to balance lipid profiles.

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