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Fats and Oils

The triesters of fatty acids with glycerol (1,2,3-trihydroxypropane) compose the class of lipids known as fats and oils. These triglycerides (or triacylglycerols) are found in both plants and animals, and compose one of the major food groups of our diet. Triglycerides that are solid or semisolid at room temperature are classified as fats, and occur predominantly in animals. Those triglycerides that are liquid are called oils and originate chiefly in plants, although triglycerides from fish are also largely oils. Some examples of the composition of triglycerides from various sources are given in the following table.

 

Saturated Acids (%)

Unsaturated Acids (%)

Source

C10
& less

C12
lauric

C14
myristic

C16
palmitic

C18
stearic

C18
oleic

C18
linoleic

C18
unsaturated

Animal Fats

butter

15

2

11

30

9

27

4

1

lard

-

-

1

27

15

48

6

2

human fat

-

1

3

25

8

46

10

3

herring oil

-

-

7

12

1

2

20

52

Plant Oils

coconut

-

50

18

8

2

6

1

-

corn

-

-

1

10

3

50

34

-

olive

-

-

-

7

2

85

5

-

palm

-

-

2

41

5

43

7

-

peanut

-

-

-

8

3

56

26

7

safflower

-

-

-

3

3

19

76

-

As might be expected from the properties of the fatty acids, fats have a predominance of saturated fatty acids, and oils are composed largely of unsaturated acids. Thus, the melting points of triglycerides reflect their composition, as shown by the following examples. Natural mixed triglycerides have somewhat lower melting points, the melting point of lard being near 30 º C, whereas olive oil melts near -6 º C. Since fats are valued over oils by some Northern European and North American populations, vegetable oils are extensively converted to solid triglycerides (e.g. Crisco) by partial hydrogenation of their unsaturated components. Some of the remaining double bonds are isomerized (to trans) in this operation. These saturated and trans-fatty acid glycerides in the diet have been linked to long-term health issues such as atherosclerosis.

http://www2.chemistry.msu.edu/faculty/reusch/VirtTxtJml/Images3/triglycd.gif

Triglycerides having three identical acyl chains, such as tristearin and triolein (above), are called "simple", while those composed of different acyl chains are called "mixed". If the acyl chains at the end hydroxyl groups (1 & 3) of glycerol are different, the center carbon becomes a chiral center and enantiomeric configurations must be recognized.

The hydrogenation of vegetable oils to produce semisolid products has had unintended consequences. Although the hydrogenation imparts desirable features such as spreadability, texture, "mouth feel," and increased shelf life to naturally liquid vegetable oils, it introduces some serious health problems. These occur when the cis-double bonds in the fatty acid chains are not completely saturated in the hydrogenation process. The catalysts used to effect the addition of hydrogen isomerize the remaining double bonds to their trans configuration. These unnatural trans-fats appear to to be associated with increased heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as immune response and reproductive problems.

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