Eat fat to avoid belly fat?

Does eating more fat help you gain muscle and avoid belly fat?

If you're eating polyunsaturated fats, this might be the case, say researchers from Uppsala University.

A new study found that saturated fat builds more fat and less muscle, especially in the liver and abdomen. By comparison, a surplus of polyunsaturated fat in the diet was associated with a significant increase in muscle mass and less body fat.

Study compares different diets

The study included 39 young adult men and women who had normal body weight. During the trial, the subjects ate 750 extra calories per day for seven weeks, with the goal of gaining 3 percent of their starting weight.

Half of the subjects were asked to eat a surplus of calories that came from foods high in polyunsaturated fats (sunflower oil), while the other half got their surplus of calories from foods containing high amounts of palm oil, or saturated fat. Both diets were the same in terms of sugar, carbohydrates, fat and protein; the only difference was the fat.

The researchers measured body fat, muscle mass and distribution of body fat before and after the weight gain.

The groups showed comparable weight gain, but participants who ate saturated fat had a much greater increase of fat in the liver and abdomen (especially in the fat surrounding the internal organs), and the body fat in these participants was greater overall.

The individuals who ate polyunsaturated fat gained more muscle than the other group.

Location and type of fat may affect health

Ulf Risérus, associate professor at the Department of Public Health and Caring Science and director of the study, elaborated on the findings:

Liver fat and visceral fat seems to contribute to a number of disturbances in metabolism. These findings can therefore be important for individuals with metabolic diseases such as diabetes. If the results regarding increased muscle mass following consumption of polyunsaturated fat can be confirmed in our coming studies, it will potentially be interesting for many elderly people, for whom maintaining muscle mass is of great importance in preventing morbidity.

Other studies have showed that a higher intake of polyunsaturated fat, which is found in foods like nuts and avocados, is associated with a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes – and this new study may shed light on why.

"When it comes to the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, it seems more important where in the body the fat is stored than how much fat the body has," a press release on the study stated. "Visceral fat, along with a high proportion of fat in the liver, is closely associated with increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes."

The study is published in the journal Diabetes.

Source: Uppsala University

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