29 November 1999

Spare the fat and spoil the child?

by Kate Melville

To the dismay of may gourmets, but to the delight of many doctors cholesterol-lowering, low fat diets have abounded in recent years in the quest to reduce the risk of heart disease,

However recent research into monounsaturated fats (MUF) for example those found in found in olive oils suggests that low fat may not be a good way to ensure a healthy heart.

At Pennsylvania State University, Kris-Etherton made a comparison of three diets: the Low fat diet (25% fat), a diet high in Mono Unsaturated Fats ( 34-36% fat), and the average American diet (34% fat). The diet with high MUF seemed to decreased cardiovascular risk by an up to 20.6% (on average) as opposed to a 12% reduction in risk for the Low Fat diet.

A high-MUF diet goes against the traditional approaches to the prevention of heart disease as it is even higher in fat than the average American diet. Rather than replacing any lost dietary fats with carbohydrates, the high MUF diet makes up the a balance of fats including several varieties of monounsaturated fats. The researchers also tried to broaden the high MUF diet to include peanut butter and peanut oil.

In the study some subjects were placed on a high MUF peanut butter diet and they attained pretty much the health benefits as those who had consumed an olive oil diet (about a 21% reduction in cardiovascular risk). Apparently there are real biochemical similarities between olive and peanut oils, although peanuts have a high protein content (25-30 %). Even more interestingly (for this journalist at any rate) the study highlighted the fact that peanuts are not really nuts at all, but are actually legumes.

What does all this mean, probably nothing to gourmets but to those people who like peanut butter the answer may be 'More Please!