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Oct 23, 2014

Healthy Fats Lower Cholesterol, Despite Weight Gain

Healthy fats help offset the negative impact of weight gain on heart health, finds a recent study.

Healthy fats help offset the negative impact of weight gain on heart health, according to a study highlighting the cholesterol-lowering benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study was the first of its kind to intentionally cause weight gain in adults using different types of fat in their diet. Over a seven-week period, 39 young, healthy adults added calorie-dense muffins into their diet in hopes of gaining roughly 3% body fat over the study period. The only difference? Half of the study participants ate muffins rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, while the other half consumed muffins rich in saturated fat, a type of “bad fat” linked to heart disease.

After following participants for nearly two months, researchers found an intriguing difference in subjects’ cholesterol levels. Despite similar weight gain in both groups, adults consuming unsaturated fats actually lowered their cholesterol levels over the study period. Individuals consuming saturated fats, on the other hand, saw significant increases in cholesterol levels. Not surprisingly, both groups were subject to the common negative effects of weight gain, such as endothelial dysfunction and trouble processing sugars.

Based on these findings, authors believe that healthy fats have the potential to counteract the negative effects of weight gain. Compared to saturated fats, unsaturated fats help lower cholesterol levels—even after weight gain. However, that’s not to say that findings support weight gain to boost heart health. Instead, study findings support replacing saturated fats with healthy fats when possible, as part of a balanced diet. By maintaining a healthy weight and consuming healthy fats, we can prevent negative effects of weight gain while also promoting better health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are all types of fat bad for the heart?
  • No, there are many different types of fat—some of which are harmful and some of which are beneficial. The two main types of harmful fats are saturated fat and trans fat, both of which can increase cholesterol levels. Healthier types of fat include monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may help promote cardiovascular health. Although you don’t need to eliminate fat from your diet, it’s important to consume fat in moderation and choose healthier fats when possible to promote a healthier heart.
  • What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
  • Eating saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Unsaturated fats, however, help lower cholesterol levels and, in moderation, can lower risk of heart disease. Most saturated fats come from meat and dairy products, as well as baked and fried foods. Unsaturated fats can be found in fish, nuts, seeds and certain oils. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is recommended to reduce risk for heart disease.


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