Saturated fats from plants increase fat in liver

March 03, 2014
by Gabe Mirkin, MD

A recent study from Sweden shows that saturated fats from plants
increase a person's storage of fat in the liver, which markedly
increases diabetes risk (Diabetes, published online February 18,
2014). This is important new information because we have no
epidemiological data showing that people who eat primarily saturated
fats from plants are at increased risk for diabetes or heart attacks.

Thirty-nine young, normal-weight subjects were randomly assigned to
eat large amounts of muffins made with either palm oil (high in
saturated fats) or sunflower oil (high in omega-6 polyunsaturated
fats) for seven weeks. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that
those who ate the saturated fat from plants (palm oil) had double the
amount of fat stored in their livers compared to the sunflower oil
group. The palm oil group had higher levels of saturated fats in
their bloodstreams compared to the sunflower oil group.
Interestingly, those who ate primarily omega-6 polyunsaturated plant
fat (sunflower oil) had triple the gain in muscle, compared to the
palm oil group. The authors say, "In conclusion, overeating saturated
fat promotes hepatic and visceral fat storage whereas excess energy
from polyunsaturated fat may instead promote lean tissue in healthy

Excess Fat Stored in the Liver Leads to Diabetes
More than 95 percent of diabetes is caused by inability of cells to
respond to insulin, not by lack of insulin. Most diabetics have very
high levels of insulin, not low levels, because their pancreases keep
on putting out more and more insulin to try to lower high blood sugar

When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases large amounts of
insulin. Insulin lowers high blood sugar levels by driving sugar from
the bloodstream into the liver. However when your liver is full of
fat, the fat prevents sugar from entering liver cells. The blood
sugar levels remain high to make a person diabetic.

Many studies over the years have shown that saturated fats from meat
prevent the liver from lowering high blood sugar levels, leading to
diabetes (JAMA Internal Medicine, June 17, 2013). This recent study
shows that saturated fats in plants also increase diabetes risk.

Recent Increase in Consumption of Tropical Oils
We have known for more than 35 years that partially hydrogenated
oils (trans fats) are unhealthful, but they were widely used in
virtually every kind of processed food. Since food labeling laws were
changed a few years ago and trans fats must now be listed, many food
manufacturers have replaced them with “tropical oils”: palm oil, palm
kernel oil or coconut oil. These oils are rich sources of saturated
fats. Now it appears that we should restrict all foods high in
saturated fats, whether from plant or animal sources.