GOED Omega3

The Chemistry of Fats

Fats are categorized according to the chemical structure of the fatty acid. It’s the fatty acid molecule that makes them different from each other, that is, different in how they perform in food and in cooking, and the job they do in our bodies.

Fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated. This is determined by how many double bonds exist in the fatty acid molecule. When there are more double bonds, the fatty acid is more fluid-like and flexible in the cells where they work. Saturated fats do not contain double bonds and are solid at room temperature. Animal fat, butter, and coconut oil are examples of saturated fat. Unsaturated fats can have one or more double bond. When there is one double bond, it is a monounsaturated fatty acid (mono = one), such as olive oil. When there is more than one double bond, they are called polyunsaturated fatty acids (poly = many). Examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, are vegetable oils, nut oils, and fish oils. PUFAs are liquid at room temperature. Further, because fish oils have the greatest number of double bonds and are the most unsaturated, they are sometimes also called highly unsaturated fatty acids or HUFAs. For example, EPA has 5 double bonds and DHA has 6, more than any other essential fatty acid. These double bonds make the fatty acids unique.

There is another important quality that makes fats different from each other: whether the fatty acid chains are in the cis or trans configuration. Fatty acids in the cis configuration, like omega-3s, occur in nature. While small amounts of trans fatty acids naturally occur in animal foods, most of the trans fatty acids in our food supply (e.g., partially hydrogenated soybean oil) do not naturally occur in nature; they are the result of industrialized processing and can have negative effects on our health.

EPA Molecule

EPA molecule

  • EPA lipid name: 20:5 n-3 (in cis)
  • 20 carbons
  • 5 double bonds
  • The 5 double bonds make the molecule more fluid-like and flexible in the cell where they work.


DHA Molecule

DHA molecule

  • DHA lipid name: 22:6 n-3 (in cis)
  • 22 carbons
  • 6 double bonds
  • The 6 double bonds make the molecule more fluid-like and flexible in the cell where they work.