Fat is an essential dietary component needed for human growth, development and a healthy lifestyle. Without it, we simply could not survive. It is not only a vital source of metabolic energy, but also assists with the absorption of lipid-soluble vitamins, provides structural material for cells and membranes and may play a critical role in weight management.
Back in the 1980s, there was a lot of fat phobia. Today, that’s no longer a good practice for managing one’s weight. Instead, researchers and dietitians say the focus has shifted to teaching consumers that the type of fat is more important than just the amount of fat.
Today, many researchers are interested in good fats, and specifically, the role of dietary fats in weight management. Two new studies illustrating the effects of fat on weight are highlighted below:
1. A new meta-analysis comprised of studies that compared monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and saturated fatty acids (SFA) was recently released. Each of the involved studies measured diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), energy expenditure (EE) or fat oxidation (FOx) in response to a high fat meal challenge, or long-term dietary intervention.
Although the results remain somewhat inconclusive due to the small and male-specific subject population, the research included in the analysis suggests unsaturated fats, both MUFA and PUFA, have a higher oxidation rate than saturated fats. Therefore, unsaturated fatty acids can lead to a higher diet-induced thermogenesis or increased energy expenditure, further assisting in weight management.
2. In a study conducted by the University of Manitoba, Pennsylvania State University, Laval University and the University of Toronto, researchers found canola and high-oleic canola oils can reduce abdominal fat when replacing bad fats. In this randomized controlled trial, 121 participants at risk for metabolic syndrome were given a smoothie containing one of five oils: canola, high-oleic canola, flax/safflower oil blend, corn/safflower blend and high-oleic canola enriched with omega-3 DHA. Over the next four weeks, researchers measured participants belly fat, cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides, all factors involved in the development of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
The results show monounsaturated fat is likely responsible for the reduction in abdominal fat. However, the mechanism by which MUFAs impact belly fat requires further research.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends that healthy adults should consume 20-35 percent of daily calories from fat, with 15-20 percent of that coming from good fats-monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA). Beyond weight control, incorporating good fats into the diet has several health benefits such as improving blood cholesterol, controlling blood sugar and reducing risk factors of heart disease and stroke.
As research regarding fat’s role on weight and belly fat continues to emerge, it is important for health professionals to be knowledgeable about the evolving space of fats when counseling patients seeking weight management or weight loss.