Campus News

Study: Eating foods high in polyunsaturated fats can protect against ‘splurge’ meals

A diet that includes higher amounts of polyunsaturated fats, found in foods like walnuts and salmon, can help offset the detrimental effects of the occasional meal high in saturated fats, UGA researchers have shown in a small clinical study.

They found that study participants who consumed a high polyunsaturated fat diet for seven days showed better fat burning and significant decreases in total cholesterol, among other benefits, compared to a control group that consumed a standard American diet that is higher in saturated fats and lower in polyunsaturated fats.

The study, published in the ­European Journal of Nutrition, highlights the protective effects of a diet higher in polyunsaturated fats.

“If you try to eat fairly healthy most of the time and eat a diet that’s higher in these polyunsaturated fats on a regular basis, when you do occasionally splurge or have meals high in saturated fats, it’s not quite as detrimental,” said Jamie Cooper, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the foods and nutrition department in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Researchers studied 26 participants, 16 of whom completed a seven-day diet high in polyunsaturated fats—in this case, through whole foods such as walnuts, wild-caught Alaskan keta salmon, tuna, flax seed oil, grapeseed oil and canola oil, along with fish oil supplements—while 10 consumed a control diet higher in saturated fats that consisted largely of frozen meals. Both groups consumed the same three-day lead-in diet. By the end of the seven-day diet, the high polyunsaturated fat diet participants showed significant decreases in total cholesterol and other markers of “bad” cholesterol such as LDL and triglycerides.

“By consuming a diet higher in polyunsaturated fat on a regular basis, you’re basically walking around with this inherent protection from the cardiometabolic effects of poor, high-saturated fat meals,” said study co-author Chad Paton, an assistant professor in the college’s foods and nutrition department and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.