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How Foods With Omega-6 Fatty Acids May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Some research suggests that filling up on foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as nuts and plant oils, could reduce your risk of developing the disease.

By Moira Lawler

Medically Reviewed by Kacy Church, MD

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To potentially help ward off diabetes, fuel up with foods like flaxseed, as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
To potentially help ward off diabetes, fuel up with foods like flaxseed, as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
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You're probably already aware that picking whole foods over processed ones can help reduce your risk for developing diabetes, but did you know that the types of oils, nuts, and seeds you include in your diet may also play a role?

A study published in October 2019 inThe Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that diets rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids — like those in corn oils, walnuts, and flaxseed — could reduce the risk of developing the disease. More specifically, high levels of linoleic acid, which is the most predominant of the omega-6s, reduced the risk of diabetes by 43 percent.

How Researchers Drew Their Findings on Omega-6 Fats

The research team from the George Institute for Global Health in Newtown, Australia, looked at the relationship between type 2 diabetes and the level of omega-6 fatty acids. They gathered data from 20 studies that had been completed between 1970 and 2010, which included nearly 40,000 people across 10 mostly European countries.

Those who were included in the study did not have diabetes when the studies began, so the study didn’t focus on people who were already diagnosed. Rather, “we followed participants in our study who did not have diabetes at baseline, measured how much omega-6 fats were in their blood, then followed them up and ascertained who developed diabetes,” says study author Jason Wu, PhD, a senior research fellow in the food policy division of the George Institute for Global Health. Of the 40,000 people analyzed, about 4,300 new cases of diabetes occurred over the study period.

The researchers observed that those who had the highest levels of blood linoleic acid were much less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with low levels. Dietary intake of linoleic acid correlates well with tissue levels. “These findings suggest the long-term benefits of linoleic acid for preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes,” Wu says. “The research also supports the recommendation to increase dietary intake of linoleic-acid-rich vegetable oils.” The researchers furthermore looked at a metabolite of linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, which is more tightly regulated by the body and not as greatly affected by dietary intake. This fatty acid was found to be neutral in the development of type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Health Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Despite these promising findings, omega-6s historically don’t have a stellar reputation. They’ve been said to contribute to inflammation, and one study published in March 2014 in the journalFood & Function concluded that this inflammation means polyunsaturated fatty acids could increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is a particular concern for people with diabetes, who are at a greater risk for the ailment compared with the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But take the 2014 study with a grain of salt because plenty of opposing research exists. Wu cites a study published in July 2012 in theJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that shuts down the argument that omega-6s increase inflammation. “We do know for sure they’re not inflammatory as we once thought,” says April Saunders, RD, CDE, with April Saunders Nutrition in Ontario, Canada. The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees and recommends replacing unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats found in things like butter, cheese, and fatty meat, with polyunsaturated fatty acids, noting that they can help reduce the presence of LDL ( “bad”) cholesterol, thereby lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Research has also shown how omega-6s are particularly helpful for people with diabetes. According to a study published in July 2019 inPLoS Med, polyunsaturated fatty acids may help improve glucose levels and insulin resistance compared with other macronutrients, such as carbs, monounsaturated fat, and saturated fat. Another study, published in April 2012 in theAmericanJournal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating a diet rich in omega-6s helped reduce liver fat and improve fasting insulin, and may act as an anti-inflammatory compared with a diet high in saturated fatty acids.

Diabetes-Friendly Foods Rich in Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Your body can’t produce omega-6 fatty acids on its own, so it’s up to you to incorporate them into your diet. The AHA recommends sourcing 5 to 10 percent of your daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids, which you’ll find in high amounts in vegetable oils (primarily soybean, sunflower, and corn oils), seeds (sesame and pumpkin seeds, as well as flaxseed), and nuts (walnuts and pine nuts), according to the AHA and the .

Saunders recommends that people with diabetes aim to eat ¼ cup of nuts or seeds each day. “But don’t go crazy,” she warns. “One cup of nuts has about 1,000 calories, so too much of a good thing is easily possible.”

Even if it’s a healthy fat, it’s still fat. And fat has 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice as much as carbs or protein, Saunders says. “Don’t fall into the trap of more is better when it comes to fat — even for healthy fat,” she says.






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Date: 06.01.2019, 14:44 / Views: 84491