Examples of Lipids and What They Do

You may have heard of lipids before. But what are they? A lipid is a fat-like molecule and is a major building block of the cells of animals. Lipids are organic, meaning that they contain carbon atoms, and they do not dissolve in water. Keep reading to find examples of the different types of lipids.

Lipids from butter, milk, cheese, and eggs Lipids from butter, milk, cheese, and eggs
Advertisement

Examples of Types of Lipids

Many types of lipids are part of your everyday diet. Other types of lipids form naturally in your body. No matter how they get there, lipids are an important part of our lives and our health. Here are some lipid examples that you might discover in your body – and where you can find them in a healthy diet.

Fats

Fats make up the largest category of lipids, and also go by the terms triacylglycerols, triglycerides, and glycerolipids. There are several types of fats. Some may be unhealthy in large amounts, such as saturated fats, while others should be avoided altogether, like trans fats. Foods with omega-3 fats, however, can reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Type of Fat

Basic Information

Where to Find It

Saturated Fats

Solid substance when it is at room temperature

Animal foods (butter, meat, cheese, milk, etc.)

Tropical oils (palm oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil)

Unsaturated Fats (monounsaturated)

Liquid when it is at room temperature

Vegetable oils (olive, peanut, canola oils)




Unsaturated Fats (polyunsaturated)

Two types of fats: Omega-6 and Omega-3

Plant-based oils (Omega-6: sunflower, sesame, corn, soybean, and safflower oils)


Seafood (Omega-3: shellfish, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, and trout)


Nuts and seeds: (Omega-3: walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans)

Trans Fats (trans polyunsaturated fatty acids)

Hydrogenated fats make foods crispy



Processed foods (potato chips, crackers, cookies)


Dressings and spreads (salad dressing, margarine)

Steroids

Many lipids occur naturally in your body as steroid lipids. Even though steroid lipids appear different from other lipids, they are also insoluble in water. Here are some examples of steroid lipids:

Type of Steroid

Function in the Body

Cholesterol

Assists with digestion

Estrogen

Female hormone

Testosterone

Male hormone

Bile Salts

Lipids found in human intestinal bile

Cortisol

Produced in response to stress

Waxes

Waxes are another type of naturally occurring lipid. They have high melting points (40 degrees Celsius), making them helpful as candles or sealants. Some waxes can be found in the human body, and others are made by insects, animals, and plants.

Type of Wax

Where to Find It

Function

Beeswax

Beehives

Forms honeycombs and protects larvae

Earwax

Human ears

Protects insides of ears

Cutin

Surfaces of plant leaves

Stops water from evaporating from the leaves; protects and seals the plant.

Preen wax

Feathers of birds

Prevents water from penetrating feathers; keeps bacteria from growing

Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are lipids. It’s important to have a balance of these types of lipids to keep the body functioning. People with low amounts or imbalanced vitamins can take supplements to help their bodily functions.

Some examples of fat-soluble vitamins include:

Type of Vitamin

Function in the Body

Vitamin-Rich Foods

Vitamin A

Assists immune function, vision, and reproduction

Colorful fruits and vegetables


Whole milk


Liver and organ meat

Vitamin D

Enhance how intestines absorb calcium, zinc, phosphate, iron, and magnesium

Fatty fish (tuna, salmon)


Egg yolks


Sunlight exposure

Vitamin E

Protects the human heart and helps protect the body from free radicals (keeps cells healthy)

Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils

Vitamin K

Allows blood to clot; may aid with bone strength in elderly people

Leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards, romaine, green leaf lettuce, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)

Advertisement

Phospholipids

The last category of lipids are phospholipids. These lipids are found in most cell membranes and make up a protective layer between the cell and its outer membrane. Some foods that contain phospholipids include:

Type of Phospholipid

Function in the Body

Vitamin-Rich Foods

Phosphatidylcholine

Aids neural processes (learning and reasoning)

Red meat


Fish


Phosphatidylserine

Regulates heartbeat and bone repair

Poultry

Carrots


Rice


Phosphatidylethanolamine

Maintains neural tissue (cognition and memory)

Dairy products

Chocolate

Lipid Structure

The chemical makeup and structure of a lipid determines whether it’s a fat, steroid, wax, or phospholipid. It allows them to pass through a body easily, insulate nerve cells and block surfaces from water. Similarities between lipid structures include:

  • They are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (same as carbohydrates, but more hydrogen than oxygen molecules).
  • Lipids are hydrophobic and are not water soluble.
  • Most lipids are made up of long hydrocarbon chains.

Lipids are Part of Our Everyday Lives

It’s easy to think that we should cut lipids out of our diet to stay healthy. However, human bodies require many lipids to properly function. If you’d like some tips on avoiding saturated and trans fats, check out an article that features several examples of monounsaturated fats and where to find them.