Fat – chains of carbon atoms

When you look in a mirror, you might see fat as something you’d like to get rid of. But it’s possible to look at fats — and oils — differently.

Fats and oils are mostly long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms glued to them. In a saturated fat — all the sites where hydrogen atoms can park are occupied . . .

While in an unsaturated fat — say, olive oil — there’s more available parking for the hydrogen atoms. Most fats from animals — such as butter — are highly saturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Oils, on the other hand, are extracted from various parts of plants — including bark, flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, and twigs.

Our bodies need fats . . . for example, essential fatty acids are found in the membranes of our retina, the part of the eye that turns light into nerve impulses. Essential fatty acids help make up our synapses, the junctions between individual nerve cells in the body.

Carbohydrates or proteins produce energy — but fat produces even more. Mammals like us carry our fat deposits right under the skin. Insects store fat in a special structure in the abdomen. Plants store fat in seeds, where it provides the first food for young seedlings as they grow.

In fact, in every cell in both plants and animals, there’s a special fat — called the lipid bilayer — that forms part of the cell’s membrane. Its job is to keep the cell’s structure intact. Fats are insoluable in water — and the lipid bilayer is the essential barrier between the cell’s watery inside and watery environment outside . Exactly how this lipid bilayer works is still largely unknown.

Fat can produce about 4,000 calories of energy per pound (9 calories per gram). Carbohydrates and proteins can each produce about 1,800 calories per pound (4 calories per gram), less than half the energy produced by fat.

Synapses, the junctions between the body’s individual nerve cells, are also rich in essential fatty acids.

We get corn oil and cottonseed oil from the seeds. Olive oil and palm oil are extracted from the fruit pulp that surrounds the seed.

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