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The global fight against diabetes got a positive boost last month, as a study published in PLOS Medicine found that unsaturated fats have a more positive effect on blood sugar levels than saturated fats and carbohydrates.
Looking through available evidence from 102 different clinical trials, the study found plenty of biochemical evidence that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are far better for controlling blood sugar levels and boosting insulin resistance.
“For example, polyunsaturated fats have the ability of suppressing oxidative stress in the body, fat synthesis in the liver, accumulating fat in organ cells, as well as pancreatic toxicity and insulin resistance,” says Dr. Fumiaki Imamura, one of the study’s authors. “There are so many pathways which can explain the benefits of those kinds of fatty acids.”
Aside from controlling blood glucose, unsaturated fats have also been found to reduce a number of different risk factors for heart disease, including bad cholesterol (LDL), neutral lipids in the blood (triglycerides), and are known to suppress chronic inflammation in the body.
Nutritive choices such as nuts are widely lauded by dietitians across the World Wide Web, and Imamura thinks that they can serve as an important dietary staple, along with other types of healthy fats.
“We have not seen any adverse effects of eating lots of nuts, and there is a study showing that adding nuts to a diet usually doesn’t cause obesity,” he says. “So based on evidence, we do not have any upper limit of consuming those types of healthy fats. I don’t think we need to set any upper limits.”
This kind of encompassing analysis can have a longstanding effect on how a disease is treated, even though pinpointing the effects of a possibly key dietary option like nuts don’t come so easily.
“We know that it’s difficult to see substantial effects of single food items,” Imamura says, “but over the long term we should be able to see some effects based on this study and many other studies relating to sugars, fiber, and different dietary patterns.”
With the growing prevalence of diabetes growing in the United States and around the world, that’s certainly welcome news. While the disease is still likely irreversible, managing one’s diet is one of the keys to staying on top of the disease, alongside regular exercise. The benefits of these findings are multifaceted—not only does the study bring together the data from a glut of studies, but they also confirm dietary advisories for clinicians dealing with diabetes patients, as well as those who are at risk.
“I’m sure that many clinicians are working hard to reduce sugar consumption for prevention of diabetes, and I’m sure they’re happy to pass on a recommendation of healthy fat in relation to reducing refund sugars,” Imamura says. “We can foresee the benefit of these lifestyle interventions for the future.”