Skip to main content
Medicine LibreTexts

2.33: Fatty Acid Naming & Food Sources

There are three naming systems used for fatty acids:

  1. Delta nomenclature
  2. Omega nomenclature
  3. Common names

The omega nomenclature and common names are used more in the field of nutrition than the delta nomenclature when describing specific fatty acids.

1. Delta Nomenclature

For delta nomenclature you need to know 3 things:

  1. Number of carbons in the fatty acid
  2. Number of double bonds
  3. Number of carbons from the carboxylic acid (alpha) end to the first carbon in the double bond(s)

Let's consider the example in the figure below.

Figure 2.331 Delta Nomenclature

  1. Number of carbons in the fatty acid = 18
  2. Number of double bonds = 1
  3. Number of carbons from the carboxylic acid end to the first carbon in the double bond = 9

This is then written as shown in Figure 2.331.

2. Omega Nomenclature

The omega nomenclature is almost exactly the same as the delta nomenclature, the only differences being:

  1. Carbons are counted from the methyl (omega) end instead of the carboxylic acid end
  2. The omega symbol is used instead of the delta symbol

For omega nomenclature you need to know 3 things:

  1. Number of carbons in the fatty acid
  2. Number of double bonds
  3. Number of carbons from the methyl end (aka Omega end) to the first carbon in the double bond closest to the methyl end

We will again consider the same fatty acid.

Figure 2.332 Omega Nomenclature

  1. Number of carbons in the fatty acid = 18
  2. Number of double bonds = 1
  3. Number of carbons from the methyl (aka omega) end to the first carbon in the double bond closest to the methyl end = 9

If it is a saturated fatty acid, then the omega nomenclature is not added to the end of the name. If it is an 18 carbon saturated fatty acid, then it would be named 18:0.

This is written as shown in figure 2.332. Instead of an omega prefix, the prefix n- (i.e. n-3) is also commonly used.

3. Common Names

The common names of fatty acids are something that, for the most part, have to be learned/memorized. The common name of the fatty acid we have been naming in this section is oleic acid.

Figure 2.333 Oleic acid

However, it can also be called oleate. The only difference is that, instead of a carboxylic acid on the end of the fatty acid, it has been ionized to form a salt (shown below). This is what the -ate ending indicates and the two names are used interchangeably.

Figure 2.334 Oleate

The table below gives the common names and food sources of some common fatty acids.

Table 2.331 Common names of fatty acids2

Omega Name Common Name
4:0 Butryric Acid
12:0 Lauric Acid
14:0 Myristic Acid
16:0 Palmitic Acid
18:0 Stearic Acid
20:0 Arachidic Acid
24:0 Lignoceric Acid
18:1(n-9) Oleic Acid
18:2(n-6) Linoleic Acid
18:3(n-3) Alpha-linolenic Acid
20:4(n-6) Arachidonic Acid
20:5(n-3) Eicosapentanoic Acid
22:6(n-3) Docosahexanoic Acid

The NutritionData link below can help you identify foods that are high in a specific fatty acid.

Web Link

NutritionData: Fatty Acids

Food Sources of Fatty Acids

After going through this wide array of fatty acids, you may be wondering where they are found in nature. The figure below shows the fatty acid composition of certain oils and oil-based foods. As you can see, most foods contain a mixture of fatty acids. Stick margarine is the only product in the figure that contains an appreciable amount of trans fatty acids. Corn, walnut, and soybean are rich sources of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, while flax seed is fairly unique among plants in that it is a good source of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Canola and olive oil are rich sources of monounsaturated fatty acids. Lard, palm oil, butter and coconut oil all contain a significant amount of saturated fatty acids.

Figure 2.335 Fatty acid composition of foods and oils3

References & Links

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:My...oleic_acid.png
  2. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. (2008) Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
  3. www.nutritiondata.com

Links

Nutrition Data: Fatty Acids - http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/fatty-acids

Contributors