Researchers from the University of Vermont have found that a diet high in saturated fats triggers an abnormal inflammatory response in the body, similar to when you have an infection or illness—only in this case no illness is present. Further, that response is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, the name for a group of conditions (including obesity) associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
For the study, a number of otherwise healthy lean and obese adults were asked to follow two different experimental diets over several weeks so that researchers could measure their effects on inflammation. One diet was high in palmitic acid, a common saturated fat, while the other was low in palmitic acid and high in oleic acid, a common unsaturated fat.
In the high palmitic acid group, researchers saw an increase in the production cytokines, which are proteins released by the immune system to protect against infection and inflammation. (In previous studies, cytokines have been associated with obesity and metabolic disorders). However, those in the high oleic acid group saw the opposite effect: a decreased inflammatory response.
According to researchers, consuming a diet high in healthy fats (such as a Mediterranean-style diet) may be a key factor in promoting a healthy inflammatory response and reducing the risk of obesity and related health conditions.