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Lipids are hydrophobic molecules meaning that they don’t dissolve well in
water. They are fats, oils, phospholipids, and sterols. There two types of lipids
we will discuss: Triglycerides and phospholipids.

Triglycerides: triglycerides consist of a molecule of glycerol and three fatty

acid chains. The glycerol is actually an alcohol. It is the fatty acid chains that
are important here.

What are fatty Acids?

Fatty acids are made up of H, O, and carbon

(C). Carbon can form four bonds; this
makes carbon a very versatile element. The
fatty part of fatty acids is a chain of carbon
atoms bonded together; each C is also
bonded to several H's:

The "acid" part of a fatty acid has one C,

two O's and one H. It looks like this:

In the acid portion, there are two lines or

bonds between the C and one of the O's.
This is known as a "double bond".

Examples of fatty acids

Acetic acid
(vinegar), a
short chain
fatty acid; C2:0
Palmitic acid
(found in lard
and butter), is a
long chain fatty
acid; C16:0
Two very long
chain fatty
(VLCFA's) are
called lignoceric
acid; C24:0

acid; C26:0

A convenient abbreviation system is also shown with each fatty acid above. The number
after the "C" is the number of carbon atoms in the chain, e.g. C2, C16, C24, C26, etc. The
number after the colon tells us the number of double bonds in the carbon chain. In all the
examples shown above, there are no double bonds between the carbon atoms; therefore,
all have the designation ":0".

Fatty acids - What good are they? Where do they come from and what
does the body do with them?

Fatty acids are found in the foods we eat. They are in particularly high amounts in fatty or
greasy foods, fried foods, and oils. They are also present in large amounts in nuts and
seeds. Meat, even lean cuts, have a lot of fatty acid in them. On the other hand, vegetables,
fruits, and starchy foods (e.g. pasta or breads) are relatively low in fatty acids.

What happens to dietary fatty acids? Fatty acids and other nutrients in food reach the
stomach where the process of digestion begins. In this process, foods are broken down
into their different components, such as carbohydrates (sugars and starches), proteins, and
lipids (fatty acids and cholesterol). These components of food are then absorbed by the
cells that line the intestines. Nutrients pass through the intestinal cells and into small blood
vessels. These blood vessels go directly to the liver, which can be thought of as a
"processing plant" for nutrients. In the liver cells, nutrients are metabolized; this means
that they are either broken down to produce heat or energy, or are converted to other
chemicals that the body needs. Excess nutrients can be converted to a storage form such as
glycogen (for sugars) or triglycerides (for fatty acids).
Very often the body has too much fatty acid around,
either because we ate too much or because the body
produced too much internally. We need to get rid of the
excess fatty acid. Fatty acids are then broken down or
"oxidized" to produce energy or heat for the body. In
fact, fatty acids are the main source of fuel for the body
during starvation. There is a delicate balance between
having enough fatty acid around and having too much.
The body normally has finely tuned mechanisms for
maintaining this balance. When the balance is shifted,
disease often results.

The fatty acids you see in the photos above are all
Saturated fatty acids. That means that they are
saturated with hydrogen atoms. Everywhere where a
hydrogen atom can bond to a carbon atom, it will.
Saturated fats (fatty acids) have three qualities. The first
one I mentioned. Secondly, they all come from animals
like butter and lard. Third, they are solid at room
temperature. To the left is steric acid. All the way to the
right side is the glycerol and you will notice that the
three fatty acid chains are covered in hydrogens.

Unsaturated fats are not saturated with hydrogens as you will see in the photo below.
Also, it is found in plants and liquid at room temperature.
Look at the arrows. They are pointing to double covalent bonds. A carbon
atom can only make four bonds. Two of those bonds are with each other. The
third bond is the carbon on the other side. That leaves the last bond with a
hydrogen. So, everywhere there are two carbons double-bonded to eachother,
the hydrogens are missing. It is unsaturated.
The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is that with unsaturated
fats, there is an opening for oxygen to get in there and break it up. In saturated
fats, there are no openings, so it is harder to break them up and they can hang
around in your arteries.

Look at the photo below, rather than refer to it as the right or left end of the
molecule we refer to it as the alpha end (left side in this photo) and omega end
(methyl end) on the right side.

Did you ever hear of omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids? What you do is find
where the carbons are double bonded and count how many carbons it is over
from the omega end. Look at the monosaturated fatty acid in the photo below.
How many carbons from the omega end are the double bonded carbons? So it
is an omega 3 fatty acid. Where the double bonds matter in how the fat is
broken down.

You will also notice that the differences between the three fatty acids above.
The first one is saturated and the lower two are unsaturated. Monounsaturated
means there is one double bond (therefore, one “opening”) and polyunsaturated
has more than one “opening”.

In referring to fatty acids we can summarize it the following way: The

polyunsaturated fatty acid above has 12 carbons and 2 double bonds.
Therefore, I can write it as: C12:2. The middle fatty acid is C8:1
Essential fatty acids

There are some fatty acids that our body needs to make thinks like cell
membranes and hormones. The two you must know are called Linolenic acid
and Linoleic acid.

Linolenic acid: is an Omega three fatty acid found in fish oils. There are two

Docosahexaenoic (you learn only DHA): C22:6

Eicosapentaenoic acid (you learn EPA): C20:5

Linoleic acid: C18:2

Another fatty acid that is non-essential is Oleic acid- C:18:1

Ok, the last thing about triglycerides are: unsaturated fats that actually act as
saturated fats. They are trans fatty acids and hydrogenated fats.

Hydrogenated fats started out as unsaturated fats. Those are good for us
because our body breaks them down easier, but the food industry hates them
because they break down on the shelf easier. So what they do is cram, shove,
force hydrogen atoms into that opening. I don’t know exactly how it is done,
but even though it might be corn oil. It acts like butter when it is hydrogenated.

To the left here is the difference between an

unsaturated fat (left) and trans fatty acid
(right). It is in the placement of the

Triglycerides for energy

About half of the energy we use at rest and during light activity comes from
fats. Our body wants to use Carbohydrates the most, but they are in short
supply in our body compared to fats (if we didn’t eat carbs, we would deplete
our body of them within the day). Also, our body can convert the glycerol part
of triglycerides to make glucose.

Phospholipids are made from glycerol, two fatty

acids, and (in place of the third fatty acid) a
phosphate group (that’s the blue one on top)
with some other molecule attached to its other
end. The hydrocarbon tails of the fatty acids are
still hydrophobic (don’t like water), but the
phosphate group end of the molecule is
hydrophilic (like water). This means that
phospholipids are soluble in both water and oil.
They have many applications

An emulsifying agent is a substance which is soluble in both oil and water,

thus enabling the two to mix. A “famous” phospholipid is lecithin which is
found in egg yolk and soybeans. Egg yolk is mostly water but has a lot of
lipids, especially cholesterol, which are needed by the developing chick.
Lecithin is used to emulsify the lipids and hold them in the water as an
emulsion. Lecithin is the basis of the classic emulsion known as mayonnaise.

Our cell membranes are made

mostly of phospholipids
arranged in a double layer with
the tails from both layers
“inside” (facing toward each
other) and the heads facing
“out” (toward the watery
environment) on both surfaces.

Recommendations for fat


There is no longer an RDA for total fat intake, but is should be around 15%
of our total energy. This percentage could be anywhere from 10% to 30%
depending on who you talk to. Generally, you could approach 30% fat intake
if they were all unsaturated fats and especially if they were omega 3 and 6
fatty acids. If you eat bacon and hamburgers, I would say 10% or even less.
Remember that fat is hidden in so many foods. I just looked at the granola in
my cupboard and it has 4% daily allowance for saturated fat and 11% for
total fat. That may not seem like much, but that is for a half cup granola.
Most of us eat a cup. Also, that is for granola, which is supposed to be a
hippie food. If you have toast with peanut butter, you are already at half the
fat. Get it?