Phospholipids: An Essential Lipid To Promote Overall Health

Phospholipids: An Essential Lipid To Promote Overall Health

Like any other type of nutrient, lipids – better known as fats – come in many different shapes and forms.

Lipids are macronutrients – nutrients that are essential in large amounts every day to keep the body running at top condition.

They are part of the top three macronutrients needed by the body. Needing to be consumed daily through diet or supplements.

All three include (with AMDR % daily calorie ranges):

  • Lipids (20 – 35%)
  • Protein (10 – 35%)
  • Carbohydrates (45 – 65%)

Lipids are an essential nutrient for your body to function on a daily basis. They are involved in: providing the body with energy, make up a large portion of the structure in our cells, and help with hormone production.

However, there is still a lot of confusion about if lipid are good or bad.

So, what are they?

The answer – It depends.

Lipids – Good or Bad?

As stated above, lipids can be either good or bad. It just depends on what you choose.

Lipids – fats –  come in many forms, but can be split into three simple categories:

  • Trans fats
  • Saturated fats
  • Unsaturated fats

The Bad Fats:

Bad fats include: Trans fats and Saturated fats.

Both these types of fats can cause harmful effects to the body when consumed in large amounts.

They are both linked to increased cholesterol levels and increased risk of disease (1).

They are typically found in processed foods, meats, and animal by-products.

The Good Fats:

Good fats include: Unsaturated fats.

Unlike the ‘bad’ fats, good fats can be beneficial to the body and may reduce the risk of disease

Unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated – found in olive oil and nuts – or polyunsaturated (known as Omega-3s)– found in fish and shell-fish (1).

Types of Lipids Important in the Body

Once you consume good fats in the diet, they are broken down to lipids that the body can actually use. And, are essential for our body to function correctly.

Lipid forms important for the body include:

  • Triglycerides – Excess fat in the diet is turned into triglycerides. They are stored in fat cells in the body and are released slowly for energy between meals (2).
  • Sterols – Sterols play a large part of ‘regulation’ in the body. They are used in the production of hormones that help in body signaling and growth. They also help make up the structure of cell membranes (3).
  • Phospholipids – Like sterols, phospholipids are an important component in the structure of cell membranes. They also play a part in the cell’s chemical and electrical signaling (4).

What are Phospholipids

Phospholipids are important types of lipids broken down from dietary fat in the body.

As already stated, they are important for the structure of our body cells. They also play a key part in cell communication with the body and nervous system (4).

There are over 10 different types of phospholipids in the body and all play a part in build the outermost layer of out cell – the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane, which helps cells travel through the body.

But 4 phospholipids are most common are have additional traits (4) –

  • PC (phosphatidylcholine) – The most common phospholipid in the body and plays an important role in brain function
  • PE (phosphatidylethanolamine) – Aids DNA proteins in folding and functioning properly
  • PS (phosphatidylserine) – Assist in blood clotting
  • SM (sphingomyelin) – Help transport protein building blocks throughout the body


Phosphatidylcholine – A Phospholipid With Many Benefits

As the most common phospholipid in the body, PC (phosphatidylcholine) has shown to provide many potential benefits to the body.


  • Brain Function

    PC is an important part of acetylcholine – an essential chemical for messaging in the brain.

    Research has shown PC helps keep memory sharp (5).

    • Medication Side Effects

      Several prescription medications and anti-inflammatories may disrupt phospholipids that protect the cells of the stomach and intestines. Leading to possible damage.

      PC may be able to help damage by reinforcing the phospholipid bilayer of gastrointestinal tract cells (5).

      How To Get Enough Lipids (and Phospholipids ) Into Your Daily Diet?

      To get enough lipids – that form phospholipids and PC – into your diet, you need to make sure you’re consuming them from the right sources.

      Foods you should focus on are those that contain ‘good,’ unsaturated fats. Including (1):

      • Olive oil
      • Nuts and seeds
      • Avocados
      • Fatty fish (i.e., salmon or sardines)

      You can also consume high-quality supplements from reputable retailers. Including:

      • Lipid supplements
      • Fish or krill oil
      • PC supplement

      Always seek the advice of a trusted medical professional when deciding to take a new supplement or if you experience discomfort when using a new health product.


      Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD