The Richmond Register

March 8, 2014

Saturated fat consumption leads to abdominal fat

Register Columnist

RICHMOND — New research from Uppsala University shows that eating more saturated fat in the diet causes an increase in the amount of fat stored in the abdominal area in comparison with extra consumption of polyunsaturated fat.

This is the first study on humans that shows how the composition of food influences where the fat will be stored in the body. The findings were recently published in the journal Diabetes.

The study followed 39 young men and women who ate 750 extra calories a day for seven weeks in an attempt to increase their body weight by 3 percent.

The extra calories came in the form of muffins with high fat content. Half of the subjects ate muffins with polyunsaturated fat (sunflower oil) and the other half got their surplus calories from muffins with saturated fat (palm oil). Both diets were otherwise identical and contained the same amount of sugar, carbohydrates, protein, and fat; the only difference was the type of fat in the muffins.

Distribution of fat in the body was measured using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) before and after the increase in weight. MRI is able to show both where the body stores fat and muscle mass.

Results showed that both groups gained weight although the surplus consumption of saturated fat caused a significantly greater increase in fat in the liver and abdomen (especially surrounding the internal organs, visceral fat) than the polyunsaturated fat.

Furthermore, the saturated fat group had more total body fat deposited, while, on the other hand, the polyunsaturated fat group deposited three times more muscle mass.

These findings clearly show that the type of fat you eat not only has an effect on how much body fat you gain but where you deposit that body fat. Since many Americans consume far more saturated fat that recommended, these results are highly relevant for Western populations. 

In regards to the development of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, previous research has shown that where body fat is stored may be even more important than how much fat the body has.

Excess visceral fat is associated with a number of metabolic disturbances, including Type-2 diabetes. Given that some individuals have a tendency to deposit in the liver and abdomen, these results suggest that fat composition in the diet, over the long term, may play an important role in preventing obesity-related disorders like diabetes. Obviously, replacing saturated fat from butter, meat and palm oil with unsaturated fats from fish and plant oils is a healthy start.