Two protocols were performed to study meal fatty acid metabolism. In protocol 1, 14 patients scheduled for elective intra-abdominal surgery (11 undergoing bariatric surgery for severe obesity) consumed a meal containing [3H]triolein in the evening before surgery. This allowed us to measure adipose tissue lipid specific activity (SA) in mesenteric and omental, deep and superficial abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue. Intra-abdominal adipose tissue lipid SA was greater than subcutaneous lipid SA. There were no significant differences between mesenteric and omental or between deep and superficial abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue. In protocol 2, meal fatty acid oxidation and uptake into subcutaneous and omental adipose tissue ([3H]triolein) were measured in six normal, healthy volunteers. Meal fatty acid oxidation (3H2O generation) plus that remaining in plasma ( approximately 1%) plus uptake into upper body subcutaneous, lower body subcutaneous, and visceral fat allowed us to account for 98 +/- 6% of meal fatty acids 24 h after meal ingestion. We conclude that omental fat is a good surrogate for visceral fat and that abdominal subcutaneous fat depots are comparable with regard to meal fatty acid metabolic studies. Using [3H]triolein, we were able to account for virtually 100% of meal fatty acids 24 h after meal ingestion. These results support the meal fatty acid tracer model as a way to study the metabolic fate of dietary fat.