NUTRITION
November 10, 2009

The Benefits of Healthy Fats

Certain fats actually lower blood sugar. Fats high in omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids, found in safflower, flax seed and other oils

Don’t sacrifice healthy fats for the sake of your diet, suggests new research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study followed postmenopausal women, looking at the effect of safflower oil on their body mass indexes (BMI) and blood sugar.

The study’s participants were 35 obese women who had previously been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes; their mean age was 60. The women took safflower oil or conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplements for 16 weeks. Then, after a four−week “washout” period – to allow the effects of the first oil to subside completely – the women switched and took the other supplement for another 16 weeks. Previous research had shown that CLA reduced body fat in animals, but the effect of safflower oil on body fat and blood sugar was unknown.

There was a significant effect on blood glucose, with women measuring between 11 and 19 points lower after taking the supplement.

The team, led by Martha Belury, found that safflower oil had only a modest effect on BMI: after taking this supplement the women tended to lose just a couple of pounds from around the middle. But there was a significant effect on blood glucose, with women measuring between 11 and 19 points lower after taking the supplement. In contrast, when women took CLA supplements, their BMI and overall body fat dropped significantly, but the oil did not appear to affect blood sugar.

Belury said that the team had originally included safflower oil as a control to monitor the effects of CLA, but found that it offered its own benefits for diabetic patients. “These fats seem to work very differently from each other,” said Belury. Though she says it’s still too early to make recommendations about adding fat supplements to the diet, she does urge individuals to make sure to include “healthy,” polyunsaturated fats in their diets.

"Don't get rid of the healthy fats in your diet when you get rid of the bad ones," Belury urges. Safflower oil is high in omega−6 unsaturated fatty acids, and is also found in many other oils, like flaxseed, sunflower, and soybean. Belury says that though it would be difficult to consume from food the amount of CLA used in the study, the amount of safflower oil in the study’s supplements was the equivalent to just less than two teaspoons – an amount that would be easily gotten through the diet alone.

The study was conducted by researchers at Ohio State University.

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