We summarize here the evidence indicating that carbon from alpha-linolenate and linoleate is readily recycled into newly synthesized lipids. This pathway consumes the majority of these fatty acids that is not beta-oxidized as a fuel. Docosahexaenoate undergoes less beta-oxidation and carbon recycling than do alpha-linolenate or linoleate, but is it still actively metabolized by this pathway? Among polyunsaturates, arachidonate appears to undergo the least beta-oxidation and carbon recycling, an observation that may help account for the resistance of brain membranes to loss of arachidonate during dietary deficiency of n-6 polyunsaturates. Preliminary evidence suggests that de novo lipid synthesis consumes carbon from alpha-linolenate and linoleate in preference to palmitate, but this merits systematic study. Active beta-oxidation and carbon recycling of 18-carbon polyunsaturates does not diminish the importance of being able to convert alpha-linolenate and linoleate to long-chain polyunsaturates but suggests that a broad perspective is required in studying the metabolism of polyunsaturates in general and alpha-linolenate and linoleate in particular.