Brooklyn Nutrition Coach: Understanding Fatty Acids

With Brooklyn Nutrition Coach we’ll be giving you our favorite (easy to make) recipes, as well as thoughts and ideas about eating and nutrition in general. Nutrition can be a complicated subject – Brooklyn Nutrition Coach will give you a chance to better understand a wide range of nutrition topics (from basic nutrition science and our favorite Brooklyn Nutrition Coach recipes to different diet theories and our favorite places to get our hands on fresh food in Brooklyn). Best of all Brooklyn Nutrition Coach will give you easy to follow information on healthy eating and cooking in Brooklyn. If you’re in the area, come in and say hello and find out more about Brooklyn Nutrition Coaching  in Prospect Heights – Pura Vida Urban Fitness: 184 Underhill Avenue, Brooklyn NY.

Why do I want to know about Fatty Acids? The type of fat you eat plays a huge role in not only the ease you’ll have burning fat in general, but in satiety and increased overall energy levels. You can control the types of fats you eat by keeping an eye on what exactly you’re eating.

What are Fatty Acids? A little high school chemistry is all you need to know to understand fatty acids. Our bodies rely on biomolecules – proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids. When three fatty acids join together, they bond to form a triglyceride, which falls under the category of lipids. Lipids (or fats) provide us with energy, as well as cushion our organs. We NEED fat – in addition to the functions just listed, without fat we would have a hard time maintaing our body temperature and we wouldn’t be able to absorb fat soluble vitamins.

For our purposes, we are going to talk about lipids as a source of energy. Not all lipids that we consume are equal in quality in regard to how the body most efficiently access the energy they contain. To better understand this concept, we can start with the element carbon. Carbon is one of the six elements that make up 99% of human mass and it is found in every organic compound. The element carbon has four valance electrons – meaning it has the ability to form bonds with other atoms – ENERGY IS STORED IN THESE BONDS.

A fatty acid is a VERY long chain of carbon molecules with an acid compound at one end. When it comes to determining the nature of the fat (how easy it will be for your body to use), we need to look at the bonds between the carbon atoms. Because carbon atoms have four valance electrons, they can form up to four bonds. Here’s where we get to some very familiar terms:

Saturated Fats: When the carbons of the fatty acid share only one bond with each adjacent carbon, the fat is said to be saturated. While the bond is highly stable (less reactive than a double bond), the molecule also contains less energy. What does this mean for your body? Your body is getting fat in an inefficient way – you need more overall calories to reach the same calories from fat because the food being consumed is less nutritionally dense. You need more quantity to make up for quality.

Unsaturated Fats: Unsaturated fatty acids have carbon chains that contain one (monounsaturated fat) or more (polyunsaturated fat) bonds between carbon molecules. Both of these types of fat have a greater amount of reactivity between carbons; therefore, you get more out of less – you get higher quality over more quantity.

Recognizing your fats… In the kitchen, you can usually recognize a saturated fat because it will be hard at room temperature (think butter), whereas unsaturated fats will be liquid at room temperature (think olive oil). In the grocery store, take a look at your labels. Your total fat will be listed, followed by a breakdown of the types of fats – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated.

Fatty acids in your diet… Having a variety of fats in your diet is healthy – you don’t have to avoid saturated fats – just eat them in moderation. Same goes for unsaturated fats – consume in moderation. A diet plan that cuts out all fats isn’t a good/practical plan – you need fats for survival and good health. Do, however, avoid trans fats (also, known as hydrogenated fats – think margarine and shortening). Look for ways that you might be able to substitute an unsaturated fat for a saturated fat in your diet. I’m not just saying just switching your butter for olive oil (kconsider adding a diversity of fat rich foods to your diet such as nuts and fish. Experiment with what works for/tastes best to you!

Have questions or an experience you’d like to share about fatty acids, saturated fats or unsaturated fats?


Alcantara, Sava Tang. “How to Identify Saturated Fats in the Diet |” eHow | How to Videos, Articles & More – Trusted Advice for the Curious Life | N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2011. <>.
Helmenstine,  Anne Marie, and Ph.D.. “Elements in the Human Body.” Chemistry – Periodic Table, Chemistry Projects, and Chemistry Homework Help. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2011. <>.

“Trans fat: Avoid this cholesterol double whammy –” Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2011. <>.
kitchen, local. “2010 Dietary Guidelines: Fat 102 « local kitchen.” local kitchen. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2011. <>.

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