Can We be Fat and Healthy?

Photo credit: luke.fabishIt’s an interesting question that would make most professionals throw up their hands in horror as they push us firmly towards the dietitian or gastric banding surgeon.

However there are individuals and populations who defy the statistics.  Spanish women, for example, have been found to weigh in heavier than the rest of the Mediterranean female population, and yet to have the best health profiles. Diet paradoxes keep everyone on their toes.

One key to the Spanish diet, which has been called one of the healthiest in the world, may be their high intake of good oils.  Research published late 2012 from the Medical University of Vienna alerts us to the fact that higher levels of omega-3 oils can reduce inflammation in the fat tissue of obese people.   Inflammation seems to be a key link between obesity and the negative health affects with which it is associated, so this is very important research.

Read more about this below, but first let’s look at the Spanish diet which provides excellent amounts of healthy oils, particularly olive oil and nuts, including walnuts, pine nuts and almonds.

Add to the picture the ubiquitous sardine, which works its way around the Spanish coast from spring to summer.  It’s not only the most affordable fish in the markets, but also a star of open air barbeque dining.  Together with mussels, key paella ingredient, sardines are one of the highest sources of omega-3 oils.

Even Spanish ham, pride of every tapas bar, is good for you. Some say it’s because  the pigs here eat nuts, namely acorns from oak forests in which they are raised, a far cry from industrial methods of ham production.

The Spanish sometimes refer to their Iberico pigs as “the four-footed olive tree”.  Unlike most ham, it’s high in omega-3s and monounsaturated fat (like olive oil).  According to Miguel Ullibarri, spokesman for the group of traditional Spanish ham producers known as Real Ibericos, the monounsaturated level in the ham produced from these free-ranging pigs is up to 55%, higher than any other meat.

So now back to the latest research into omega-3 oil consumption and  the health of overweight people?  The Austrian researchers who supplemented the diet of 55 severely obese (non-diabetic) patients with 3.36 grams per day of omega-3 oils (EPA and DHA noticed a “striking” improvement in the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 oils, which is a reliable indicator of chronic obesity-related low grade inflammation.   They also looked at fat tissue and found  a decrease in the expression of most of the genes linked to inflammation as well as increased anti-inflammatory eicosanoid production in the fat tissue itself.

There are many unanswered questions around the relationship between humans and dietary oils, and many now believe most of the changes made over recent decades have not been beneficial for our health.  Research is showing that much of the fat and oil we consume from supermarket shelves is pro-inflammatory.  This research into the benefits of ant-inflammatory omega-3 oils in an overweight population points us in the right direction.

Read the original research into chronic adipose tissue inflammation here:

Read a great story about Iberico ham here:

More Spanish paradoxes?  Read about dietary links to decreasing rates of heart disease and stroke in Spanish men here.  Note three of the four foods eaten more frequently were protein/fats.  Foods eaten less frequently included sugar and all carbohydrate foods.

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