Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids

Fats are an essential part of the daily diet. Although one type of fats is detrimental to our health, our body needs a specific amount of it. It has many benefits such as it helps us to absorb vitamins and minerals, increases satiety, build cell membrane, aid muscle movements, improves the taste and enjoyments of food, supports nerve health and contributes in the process of inflammation to protect the body from the contaminants.  The words fats and fatty acids are used interchangeably.

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Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are two types of fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids do not have double bonds, contain only single bonds, whereas unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds. The chain length of the most common fatty acids is 16 to 18 carbons. The triglyceride is known as the common and simple type of fat with three fatty acids and glyceride.

Fatty acids are actually the carboxylic acids with the side chain of hydrocarbon and also the simplest form of lipids. These lipids are concentrated chief fuel reserves of the body. Lipids are not polymers; they are small molecules and are the heterogeneous group of compounds. The most characteristic feature of the lipids is their insolubility in water.

Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are vital for good health. It is recommended by the dietician that the unsaturated fatty acids should be consumed in high proportion as compared to saturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids help to maintain the cholesterol level.

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Comparison Chart

Basis for ComparisonSaturated Fatty acidsUnsaturated Fatty acids
DefinitionSaturated fatty acids are the types of fatty acids in which the fatty acids chains all single bondsUnsaturated fatty acids are the types of fatty acids in which the fatty acids chains all have double bonds
Type of bondHydrocarbon chain without the double bondHydrocarbon chain with two or more double bonds
Physical propertySolid at room temperatureLiquid at room temperature
Type of chainStraight chainBend at the point of the double bond
SolubilitySoluble in vitaminsInsoluble in vitamins
Effect of hydrogenationNo effectGet converted into saturated fatty acids
Melting pointRelatively higherRelatively lower
SourcesCoconut oils, palm oil, animal fatsPlant and vegetable oil, sunflower, avocado, walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil and fish oil
Effect in humansIncreased blood cholesterol, deposited in arteries and harmful for healthLower cholesterol level and good for health
Shelf lifeLong-lastingSpoiled quickly

What are Saturated Fatty acids?

Saturated fatty acids are simple fats, containing no double bonds. They are composed of two small molecules which are fatty acids and monoglycerides. These fatty acids include long, unbranched chains of carbon atoms. A few saturated fatty acids are necessary for diet almost five to six percent of the average daily intake.

Saturated fatty acids are mostly obtained from an animal source. A few other sources are coconut oil, palm oil, whole milk, and butter. Saturated fatty acids are solid at room temperature. The overconsumption of saturated fatty acids is detrimental for the health as it affects blood cholesterol by increasing its level. Because of this effect, it is possible that a diet rich in saturated fats can result in health risks such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

The health hazards of high intake of saturated fatty acids can depend on the type of food source containing these. For example, the processes of meals can enhance the risk of cardiovascular diseases, whereas dairy may decrease it.

What are Unsaturated Fatty acids?

Unsaturated fatty acids have both single and double carbon bonds.  But this type is characterized by the presence of at least one double bond in the chain. These fatty acids are mostly obtained from a plant source. Avocado and fish oil are other types. These are in liquid form at room temperature.

Types of Unsaturated Fatty acids

Unsaturated fatty acids are of two types based on the double bond; monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: These fatty acids contain only a single double bond in their chain, so-termed as monounsaturated fatty acids. These are less stable than saturated fatty acids because of having one double bond and fewer hydrogen atoms. This category of fatty acids is found in olives, avocados, and nuts. They tend to be liquid at room temperature. These fatty acids are safe for low-temperature cooking but should not be used with high heat. These should be stored in dark containers to avoid going rancid.
  • Polyunsaturated Fatty acids: These fatty acids contain two or more double bonds in their chains. These fats have two or more double bonds and less hydrogen, hence less saturated. These fats are very unstable and highly reactive to light, oxygen, and heat. They should not be used for cooking purposes and always stored away from light and heat to prevent rancidity. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in fish, nuts, flax, and seeds. These are eaten in raw form. These fatty acids are incredibly essential for optimal physiology and should be consumed daily for good health.

Key Differences between Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids

  1. Saturated fatty acids contain the single chain of carbon atoms with no double bond, whereas unsaturated fatty acids contain carbon chains with one or more double bonds.
  2. Saturated fatty acids are solids at room temperature, whereas unsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature.
  3. Saturated fatty acids have a higher melting point, whereas unsaturated fatty acids have lower melting points.
  4. Saturated fatty acids are obtained from an animal source, whereas unsaturated fatty acids are derived from a plant source.
  5. Saturated fatty acids do not get spoiled, whereas unsaturated fatty acids get spoiled quickly.
  6. Saturated fatty acids are soluble in vitamins, whereas unsaturated fatty acids are not soluble in vitamins.
  7. Hydrogenation has no effect on saturated fatty acids, whereas unsaturated fatty acids get converted into saturated fatty acids on hydrogenation.
  8. Saturated fatty acids increase blood cholesterol whereas unsaturated fatty acids lower the blood cholesterol.
  9. Saturated fatty acids are considered suitable for health whereas unsaturated fatty acids are poorly regarded for health.

Key Similarities

  1. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are fats (lipid).
  2. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids have hydrogen and oxygen in the chains.
  3. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids contain fatty acids and glycerol.
  4. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are made up of carboxylic acid.
  5. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids act as an energy source and help in storing energy.
  6. Both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are insoluble in water.

Conclusion

In conclusion, saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are types of bad and good fats that are essential for the body. Both types differ from each other in many aspects.

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