Dietary intake of fats and sterols has long been known to play a critical role in human health. High proportions of saturated fat, which increase blood cholesterol levels, are mainly found in animal fat and some plant oil (e.g. cocoa butter, palm oil etc.). The predominant polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) in the Western diet is linoleic acid (LA; 18:2n-6), an essential fatty acid, which is commonly found in vegetable seed oils. This is the parent fatty acid of n-6 series PUFA, which can be converted in vivo to C20 and C22 n-6 long chain (LC) PUFA. α‐linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3n-3) is less abundant than LA and is another essential fatty acid; ALA is also present in some vegetable oils such as perilla, flaxseed, canola, soybean and walnut oils, and is the precursor of C20 and C22 n-3 LC PUFA. Sterols are widely distributed in animal tissue and plants, with cholesterol being the major sterol in animal tissue and β-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol being the main sterols in plants. It has long been recognized that an increased dietary intake of saturated fat and (to a lesser extent) cholesterol, raises plasma/serum total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, and PUFA decreases these levels. Results from recent studies have shown that plasma/serum levels of lipids and lipoprotein lipids can also be decreased by plant sterols (phytosterols) and diacylglycerol (DAG). Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA, cis-9,trans-11−18:2) has been reported to have anticancer and antidiabetic activities. Fat as the DAG form has also been reported to have anti-obesity effects. Omega-3 PUFA have a beneficial effect on increased heart rate variability, decreased risk of stroke, reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and may be effective in managing depression in adults. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and phytosterols have an anti-inflammatory activity. The GLA, when combined with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been reported to have a beneficial effect in hyperactive children. These data show that various lipids are powerful bioactive compounds.
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