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Saturated Fats from Plants Increase Fat in Liver

A study from Sweden showed that saturated fats from plants increase a person's storage of fat in the liver, which markedly increases diabetes risk (Diabetes, published online February 18, 2014). This is important new information because we have no epidemiological data showing that people who eat primarily saturated fats from plants are at increased risk for diabetes or heart attacks.

Thirty-nine young, normal-weight subjects were randomly assigned to eat large amounts of muffins made with either palm oil (high in saturated fats) or sunflower oil (high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats) for seven weeks. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that those who ate the saturated fat from plants (palm oil) had double the amount of fat stored in their livers compared to the sunflower oil group. The palm oil group had higher levels of saturated fats in their bloodstreams compared to the sunflower oil group. Interestingly, those who ate primarily omega-6 polyunsaturated plant fat (sunflower oil) had triple the gain in muscle, compared to the palm oil group. The authors say, "In conclusion, overeating saturated fat promotes hepatic and visceral fat storage whereas excess energy from polyunsaturated fat may instead promote lean tissue in healthy humans,"

Excess Fat Stored in the Liver Leads to Diabetes
More than 95 percent of diabetes is caused by inability of cells to respond to insulin, not by lack of insulin. Most diabetics have very high levels of insulin, not low levels, because their pancreases keep on putting out more and more insulin to try to lower high blood sugar levels.

When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases large amounts of insulin. Insulin lowers high blood sugar levels by driving sugar from the bloodstream into the liver. However when your liver is full of fat, the fat prevents sugar from entering liver cells. The blood sugar levels remain high to make a person diabetic.

Many studies over the years have shown that saturated fats from meat prevent the liver from lowering high blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes (JAMA Internal Medicine, June 17, 2013). This recent study shows that saturated fats in plants also increase diabetes risk.

Recent Increase in Consumption of Tropical Oils
We have known for more than 35 years that partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) are unhealthful, but they were widely used in virtually every kind of processed food. Since food labeling laws were changed a few years ago and trans fats must now be listed, many food manufacturers have replaced them with "tropical oils": palm oil, palm kernel oil or coconut oil. These oils are rich sources of saturated fats. Now it appears that we should restrict all foods high in saturated fats, whether from plant or animal sources.

Checked 8/9/15

March 2nd, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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