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Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)

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This article will cover the details of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). What is PUFA, its sources, benefits, risks, importance, etc? Read below to find out.

Written by

Dr. Zeba Jabeen

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At October 20, 2022
Reviewed AtOctober 26, 2022

What is PUFA?

Fats are one of the essential macronutrients the body needs for its overall health and proper growth and development. PUFA or polyunsaturated fatty acids are a kind of dietetic fats, besides monounsaturated fats, that are beneficial for the person's overall health. Chemically, their molecules have many unsaturated carbon bonds or double bonds, from where the name comes, polyunsaturated fats. Fats are the body's energy source, and PUFA also participates in various functional processes like those of the cardiovascular system, circulating fats, cell functions such as proliferation and maintaining their integrity, platelet functions, etc.

What are the Two Categories of Essential PUFA?

The two types of PUFA are based on the location of the first double bond in the carbon chain to its methyl group. These are also the most notable among all kinds of PUFA due to their abundant health benefits. They are n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. Their first double bond is present either on the third or sixth carbon from the terminal carbon of the chain. The terminal carbon in the chain is also called the omega carbon; thus, they are named omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. The two popular omega-3 fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

How Much PUFA Should be Consumed Per Day?

According to the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the total fat intake should not be more than 25 to 30 % of daily calories, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The total calorie content of all fats is nine calories per gram. The calories of carbohydrates and proteins are less than half of those found in fats. Adding foods rich in unsaturated fats is not enough to maintain good health; saturated fats should also be removed from the diet. Eliminating saturated fat foods has double the effect on reducing blood cholesterol levels than simply enhancing the intake of PUFA.

Packaged foods have the advantage of having nutrition labels on their pack that contains information on fat content too. Going through these labels can aid a person in calculating his fat intake during the day. It can be done as follows:

  • Determine the total fat you consume in one serving and include all the servings that you take in a meal.

  • Compute the intake of saturated fat and trans fat also in a portion.

  • Include fats sources mostly of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the diet. Certain labels mention ingredients containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats separately, while some do not.

  • One can have access to nutrition information even on the menus at restaurants, or at the restaurant's website.

What are the Functions of PUFA?

PUFA contributes to a plethora of health gains. They are as follows:

  • Brain functions and development can be improved by consuming omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies have supported these findings. They help enhance memory functions and prevent mental decline and associated diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's disease, etc., in older individuals.

  • They affect the cognitive and motor skills of the children when consumed by their mothers during pregnancy or lactation. Eating 8 to 12 ounces of fatty fish per week is recommended, but it should be low or devoid of mercury. However, fish oils have little or no beneficial effects on premature births of infants, allergies, and children's mental and visual development.

  • PUFA has gained momentum for its effects on heart health. Their regular intake improves cardiac health and reduces the risk of associated diseases and related deaths. The omega-3 fish oil and its supplements lower triglycerides and arrhythmia. They also decelerate plaque deposition in the arteries and prevent heart disease and stroke. Both types of PUFA, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, help decrease blood pressure.

  • Omega-6 fatty acids help maintain blood sugar levels and lower the chances of developing diabetes.

What Are the Potential Health Risks of PUFA?

As it is said that excess of everything is bad, the same goes for eating PUFA. They may lead to some health issues with their overconsumption or misuse. Some of them are as follows:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play distinct roles in the body's inflammatory process. Omega-3 fatty acids prevent inflammation, whereas omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation. The consumption ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be low as the increased ratio causes cardiovascular diseases and fosters inflammation and related illnesses.

  • As all kinds of fats contain the same amount of calories while incorporating PUFA into the diet, their calorie contribution should also be considered. Accordingly, an appropriate amount of PUFA should be consumed.

  • The shelf life and smoke point of PUFA are low, so they need to be refrigerated after the pack is opened. They should be kept in a cool and dark place when the package is sealed. Their overheating should also be avoided as it is associated with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

What are the Richest Sources of PUFA?

PUFA is found in both plant-based and animal-based products. Among plant-based products, omega-3 fatty acids are found in soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed; and omega-6 fatty acids are present in soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, poppy seed oil. Animals like fatty fish and shellfish naturally contain omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood such as salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, Atlantic mackerel, and Pacific mackerel are high in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury.

What to Do to Include PUFA in the Diet?

Certain food items in the diet can be replaced with unhealthy ones, especially those containing saturated fats.

  • Sugary snacks can be excluded, and walnuts can be introduced into the diet.

  • The meat recipes can be replaced with fish recipes by nonvegetarians. For vegetarians, the alternative sources of PUFA are hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds.

  • Sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts can be added to a salad or simply consumed as snacks.

  • Flaxseeds can also be incorporated into the meals.

  • Instead of using butter, ghee, or other saturated fats, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, etc., can be used.


PUFA is an essential source for maintaining the overall good health of the individual. However, care should be taken in choosing their source as some contain a harmful metal called mercury while storing them. Still, they should be consumed in a limited or appropriate amount so that their benefits outweigh their ill effects.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop



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