Fats are not only broken down into Saturated, Polyunsatured, and Monounsaturated, but also by the length of their fatty acid chain (this is a big consideration when looking at fats, some polyunsaturated fats can be beneficial and others harmful).
The "Dreaded" Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are general solid at room temperature. They are classified as saturated when all the available carbon bonds are filled with hydrogen atoms. (who didn't take chemistry). They are considered hightly stable, and do not spoil (go rancid) quickly, making them ideal for high temperature cooking. Found mostly in animal fats and tropical oils, your body will also make them, when their is not enough present for proper organ function, from carbohydrates.
SATURATED FATS DO NOT CAUSE HEART DISEASE....overconsumption of sugar, hydrogenated fats, and the improper use/cooking fats.
An analysis of the fat content of clogged arteries breaks down like this...
26% saturated fats
The remaining 74% is mostly polyunsaturated fats.
Short Chain Fatty Acids
Short Chained Fatty Acids are always saturated. These are carbon chains of 4 or 6. 4-Carbon atoms are found primarily in butter fat from cows, while 6-Carbon chains are found mostly in butter fat from goats. Both forms have antimicrobial properties (virus, yeast, bacterial protection). They are directly absorbed for quick energy without digestion from bile and are less likely to cause weight gain than vegetable oils because of this. (See, their not all bad)
Medium Chain Fatty Acids
These have 8-12 carbon atoms, and are found mostly in tropical oils, coconut oil and some butterfat. Like the short chain, these too have antimicrobial properties, and are absorbed quickly.
Long Chain Fatty Acids
This category overlaps and can be found Saturated, Polyunsatured and Monounsaturated. They have 14-18 carbon atoms.
Steric Acid: 18 Carbon saturated fat found mainly in beef and mutton.
Why Saturated Fats ARE GOOD for You
Monounsaturated Fats and the Mysterious Omega 7
Monounsaturated fats contain a single double bond and therefore lack two hydrogen atoms and are "kinked". Your body can make Monounsaturated fats from Saturated fats. Because they contain a kink, they do not pack together nicely and are not solid at room temperature, but will turn solid in the refriderator. Like Saturated fats, however, they are quite stable and do well when used in cooking. These fats are found mostly in olive oil, and in the oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados. (The exception is olive oil, this is not a good cooking oil...I already foresee another post on cooking oils.)
Long Chain Fatty Acids
Palmitoleic Acid (Omega 7): 16-Carbon chain Monounsaturated fat that is almost exclusively found in Liver .It is antimicrobial. . It can be found in Sea Buckthorn, Macadamia Nuts, and Algae as well. It is created from Palmitic Acid (a saturated fat). It is a key component in the formation of skin, hair and nails, and help prevent premature aging. (this is such a fascinating and little known fat, that I will have to spend a new post just discussing its benefits.)
Oleic Acid (Omega 9): 18-Carbon chain Monounsaturated fat found as the primary constituent of Olive Oil, and the highest known source is the Acai Berry.
Polyunsaturated fats have 2 or more double bonds and therefore lack 4 or more hydrogen atoms. The two most commonly found are double unsaturated Linoleic Acid with 2 double bonds and triple unsaturated Linolenic Acid with 3 double bonds. (Say those 3 times fast!) Your body cannot make these two fats and so they are considered essential fatty acids (EFA's). These fats remain liquid even when refrigerated. These oils are highly reactive and will go rancid very quickly, particularly Linolenic Acid. They should never be used in cooking or heated. (Seriously Don't Cook With These)
Long Chain Fatty Acids
There should be a balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet. An excess of Omega 6 will cause degerative heart disease, and so must be balanced in a ratio of 3:1 Omega 3:Omega 6. (FYI: Commercially raised meat has a much higher percentage of Omega 6 to Omega 3. Grass fed, and wild game are balanced.) Omega 6's are general inflammatory in nature and, yes, we do need them. They cause beneficial inflammatory responses that help us fight pathogens, and heal. But when they are not in check with a proper balance of Omega 3's they can can excessive inflammatory reactions in the body.
Linoleic Acid (Omega 6): 18 Carbon Chain fat that is found in vegetable oils Gamma Linolenic Acid (Omega 6): 18 Carbon Chain found in Evening Primrose Oil or converted from Linoleic Acid
Alpha Linolenic Acid (Omega 3): 18 Carbon Chain fat found in Flax Seeds. This form of Omega 3 must be converted into usable forms
Very Long Chain Fatty Acids
These fats have 20-24 Carbon atoms and tend to be highly polyunsaturated with up to 6 double bonds. Some people are able to make these fats from the EFA's, but other, especially those whose ancestories ate a lot of fish, lack the enzymes to produce them. These people must obtain the elongated fatty acids from animal foods alone, like organ meat, eggs, butter, and fish.
Dihomo-Gama-Linolenic Acid (DGLA): You don't hear a whole heck of a lot on this fat, BUT it is nonetheless important. It is a 20 Carbon chain with 3 double bonds. A type of Omega 6 fatty acid that is found to have anti-inflammatory effects IF and ONLY IF there is a proper amount of Omega 3 in the diet (it gets really complicated from here). Why? The same enzyme used to break down Omega 3 is the same one used to break down DGLA into chemical AA (good EFA important during pregnancy) which in turn converts into Prostaglandin 2 to increase the inflammatory response. (PHEEWWWW that was a mouth full, Did I lose anyone?) SO, if all of the enzyme is used up working on Omega 3, there isn't enough to create AA or PG2, thereby reducing and preventing the inflammatory response. Instead DGLA is converted into an anti-inflammatory PG1. (Still with me?) This type of Omega 6 is created in the body by Gamma-Linolenic Acid
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA): A 20 Carbon, 5 double bond Omega 3 Fatty Acid. This fat is a precursor to Prostaglandin 3, which inhibits platelet aggregation. It is best consumed as fish or fish oils (cold-pressed please). It can be converted in the body from Alpha Linolenic Acid, BUT only if the proper enzymes are available to break in down. (Often lacking in Diabetics, and Vegans)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): This 22 carbon, 5 double bond Omega 3 Fatty Acid is a all the rage right now. It is the big talk in the fat world, and for good reason. Most animals make very little of this fat through ALA conversion. It is primarily obtained through direct consumption in our diets. (bring on the meat). DHA is the primary fat composition of sperm, brain phospholipids, and the eyes. Its found in fish, fish oils, and algae primarily. But is also high in grass fed meat, and wild game.
There are so many more fats in our diets. Some good, and some bad. I tried to touch on the most important ones to us as far as what are the good fats and where to find them. So, when you are cooking take a look at the fats you are using and make sure they are qualified for the type of cooking you are doing. I got a little more in depth on the Omegas, because there is A LOT of confusion around those, especially Omega 6, which can be both good and bad for you. I hope that my explanation of the role of Omega 3 in that conundrum was clear. If you have questions email me.