Fatty acids are described according to two characteristics: chain length and degree of saturation with hydrogen. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) have, as the name suggests, only one unsaturated bond attached to the carbon chain. This double bond is fixed in nature and is positioned on the ninth carbon atom counting from the methyl (omega) end of the fatty-acid chain. Four of these MUFA are found in significant quantities in food, the most common being oleic acid (C18:1) (Figure 1). This n-9 fatty acid is capable of being synthesized by animals, including humans, but is predominantly incorporated via the diet. While butter and animal fats contain only small amounts of oleic acid, olive oil is a rich source. Olive oil, which comprises up to 70% of the fat intake in Mediterranean diets, is postulated to be effective in decreasing the risk of certain chronic diseases. These include such diseases as coronary heart disease, cancers, and inflammatory disorders, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
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