I know you just read that title and thought, whaaat? A fat that helps you prevent and even lose belly fat? Yes, you read it correctly. But, you wonder, doesn’t eating fat cause you to store more fat? According to new research, the answer is No. It all depends on what type of fat you eat. Let me tell you more about it…
Polyunsaturated Fats May Be Key to Belly Fat Loss, Muscle Gain
Over the last several years, I’ve told you about the different types of dietary fats present in the foods you eat. Before I tell you about how PUFA’s (polyunsaturated fatty acids) help prevent belly fat, and create other health benefits, let me refresh your memory on what the different fats are how they impact your health. I’m going to leave trans fats – a man-made type of “bad” fat – off the list as the FDA is in the process of banning them from food production and soon you won’t have to worry about them.
Saturated fats: These are animal source fats like meat, cheese, poultry, and dairy. According to the Mayo Clinic, saturated fats (SFA’s) have been found in research to increase LDL “bad” cholesterol, increasing risk of heart disease. They’re now thought to even up your risk for type 2 diabetes which I’ll tell you more about in a moment.
Polyunsaturated fats: These are plant and vegetable source fats that include such oils as corn oil, safflower oil, etc. Omega-3 fatty acids are an offshoot type of PUFA’s found almost exclusively in fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, or take them in a supplement form. Researchers have found that PUFA’s reduce LDL cholesterol and risk of heart disease. But this new research, that I’m going to tell you about momentarily, also shows that PUFAs are also instrumental in preventing, and/or helping, type 2 diabetes.
Monounsaturated fats: These are also plant and vegetable sources – but from the nut, olive, avocado families – including oils made from the same. It’s thought that MUFA’s reduce your risk of heart disease, too, by lowering bad LDL cholesterol. They’re also high in vitamin E, a major antioxidant, that helps keep bad fats from oxidizing and turning into dangerous plaques.
Okay. Now that your memory is refreshed on how various dietary fats affect your health, let me tell you more about this new research out of Uppsala University in Stockholm, Sweden. The study, Overfeeding Polyunsaturated and Saturated Fat Causes Distinct Effects on Liver and Visceral Fat Accumulation in Humans, Diabetes, February 2014, revealed a remarkable discovery about these fats. It’s the first study done on humans that shows that the type of fat in your diet not only influences your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease, but determines where fat will be stored on your body.
The Swedish researchers found that eating more saturated fats caused you to gain visceral fat – a biologically active, dangerous type of fat that surrounds the internal abdominal organs like your liver, etc. Before I tell you why this finding is so important, you need to know why a lot of stored visceral, abdominal organ-dominant fat can be so dangerous to your health.
Previous research published in the 2010 ACS Journal of Proteotome Research (New Evidence That Fat Cells Are Not Just Dormant Storage Depots For Calories), revealed that stored fat doesn’t just sit there around your waist like an unattractive nuisance. It actually functions more like organs do. It secretes hormones like lectin and adiponectin – key to weight loss and gain. It also contains about 80 proteins, in addition to inflammatory toxins called cytokines, that course throughout your body continuously. Cytokines can ignite disease-causing inflammation wherever they go setting you up for all kinds of diseases – even cancer.
Even though you can’t see this internal visceral “fat toxin factory” creating problems, you can see it wrapped around your waistline in that unsightly “belly fat”. This is an especially significant finding for people over age 50 who, with the hormonal imbalances of menopause and andropause, tend to gain a lot of fat around their belly.
Research has traced this type of belly fat distribution to being a precursor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease through a condition called metabolic syndrome. This is a constellation of symptoms that include elevated blood sugar, predominance of belly fat, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and low LDL “good” cholesterol.
Now, on the contrary, the Swedish researchers found, eating more polyunsaturated fats creates the opposite reaction. Eating more PUFAs results in more muscle mass and less belly-stored visceral fat. In their study, participants were asked to gain 3% of their starting weight by overeating either saturated fat or polyunsaturated fat foods, keeping calories, protein, carbohydrates equal. As a result, both groups had gained a comparable amount of weight. Yet, the group that ate the SFAs had 3 times less muscle mass increase than the PUFA group.
In addition, the SFA group had a marked increase in the amount of visceral fat, as well as overall body weight, than the PUFA group. They also found that PUFA’s actually activate those chemicals in visceral fat – importantly, the ones linked to reducing visceral fat storage and improving insulin metabolism. The researchers concluded that swapping out SFA’s for more PUFA’s in your diet, can result in more muscle mass, less visceral/belly fat, less total body fat storage, and better insulin metabolism. This decreases your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as helps you get rid of that spare tire.
I hope you see now why I’m excited about these findings. Adding more PUFAs to your diet is an easy adjustment you can make. Simply decrease the amount of saturated fats (animal sources) that you eat and add more plant and vegetable sources. Don’t forget the all-important Omega-3 types of PUFAs in fish as well as MUFAs in olive oil and nuts.
The Uppsala study findings are important to everyone. But, I think they will prove to be especially significant to over 50 age people who tend to lose muscle mass as they get older. Adding more PUFAs in your diet, as you get older, could actually help you retain, and even build, muscle mass.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.