We studied the metabolic effects of stearic acid (18:0) on plasma lipoprotein levels in 11 subjects during three dietary periods of three weeks each. The three liquid-formula diets, which were used in random order, were high in palmitic acid (16:0), stearic acid, and oleic acid (18:1), respectively. Caloric intakes were the same during the three periods. As compared with the values observed when the subjects were on the high-palmitic-acid diet, plasma total cholesterol decreased by an average of 14 percent during consumption of the high-stearic-acid diet (P less than 0.005) and by 10 percent during consumption of the high-oleic-acid diet (P less than 0.02). Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels fell by 21 percent in subjects on the high-stearic-acid diet (P less than 0.005) and by 15 percent in subjects on the high-oleic-acid diet (P less than 0.005). No significant differences were observed in the plasma levels of triglycerides or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol among the three diets. Measurements of the intestinal absorption of palmitic, stearic, and oleic acids revealed essentially complete absorption of each during the three dietary periods. The oleic acid content of plasma triglycerides and cholesteryl esters increased significantly during the high-stearic-acid period, suggesting that stearic acid is rapidly converted to oleic acid. We conclude that stearic acid appears to be as effective as oleic acid in lowering plasma cholesterol levels when either replaces palmitic acid in the diet.