fats and oils: Fats as Food

Animal fats used in foods include butter, lard, chicken fat, and suet. Olive, corn, peanut, soybean, and palm oils are among the many vegetable oils used in foods. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, also known as trans fats, were formerly widely used in packaged foods, but that use is now banned or highly restricted in the United States and other countries. Cod-liver oil and some other fish oils are used therapeutically as sources of vitamins A and D. Nutritionally fats and oils are valued as a source of energy. Because they contain less oxygen than other nutrients, they oxidize more readily and release more energy. Fats are digested in the human body chiefly by the enzyme lipase (in the pancreatic juice) aided by the bile. There are several theories to explain the method of absorption of fats; favored by many is the view that they are absorbed by the epithelial cells of the lining of the small intestine in the form of the fatty acids and glycerol into which they are split by digestion and that a recombination to re-form the fat occurs within the cells. Most of the fat then enters the lymphatic system through the villi in the lining of the small intestine, although some is probably absorbed directly by the blood vessels of the villi. Medical research indicates the possibility that saturated fats in the diet contribute to the incidence of arteriosclerosis; such fats may raise the blood's level of cholesterol, which is deposited in the arteries. Artificial trans fats have been banned or limited in foods because they contribute to development of heart disease.

See oils; petroleum.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Organic Chemistry