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The world’s largest study of its kind to date has yielded some very interesting findings concerning the supposed risk between saturated fat intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes. The study provides a timely refresher on the relevance of the different types of saturated fatty acids and their affect on health.

This landmark study analysed blood samples from no less than 12, 403 people who had developed type 2 diabetes from a population of more than 340,000 from eight European countries. Each individual’s blood was measured for a total of nine different saturated fatty acids. These fatty acids included what are termed both even and odd-numbered saturated fatty acids. Even-numbered saturated fatty acids, as you would expect, contain an even number of carbon atoms in their carbon backbone, while odd-numbered saturated fatty acids naturally contain an odd number of fatty acids.

The interesting bit of information is that odd-numbered fatty acids are known to serve as an accurate indication of fat intake from dairy sources such as cream and cheese. In contrast, while even-numbered saturated fatty acids still occur in food, they can also be manufactured in the body, particularly in relation to excess carbohydrate and alcohol intake. So their levels in the body cannot be tied very closely to intake of particular foods or food group.

The major finding of this study was that saturated fatty acids with odd numbers of carbon atoms (15 and 17) appeared to have a protective effect on the development of type 2 diabetes. While those who had higher levels of saturated fatty acid with even number of carbon atoms were at greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

These remarkable findings add to a growing body of evidence in recent times, which has started to question the traditional link between increased saturated fat consumption and risk for chronic diseases such a type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

 

Forouhi NG, et al. Differences in the prospective association between individual plasma phospholipid saturated fatty acids and incident type 2 diabetes: the EPIC-InterAct case-cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014;S2213-8587(14):70146-9.

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