Gabor-Kenyeres/ShutterstockWhich oil is the worst for cooking: Olive? Corn? Butter? This used to be an easy answer, but new research suggests that even supposedly healthy oils can raise your risk of diabetes, and not just by adding calories to your daily totals. Apparently, too many polyunsaturated fats—think of corn, sunflower, and soybean oil—and not enough monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola, and safflower can actually rob your urge to exercise.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan analyzed activity and diet data in preteen girls in 21 European countries and discovered that when polyunsaturated fats increased, so did hours of daily TV-watching (which is linked to increased risk of diabetes). When they analyzed the diets of adult women, they found a slight link between consumption of polyunsaturated fats and high blood sugar, a risk factor for diabetes.
One of the research authors, Sanjoy Ghosh, a Michael Smith Health Research Foundation Scholar and a professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, explains he pursued the link due to previous research at his lab demonstrating that a diet high in polyunsaturated fats led mice to abandon activity and develop diabetes-like symptoms. Other research has linked the fats to increased risk of depression in women, he points out, and depression also drives down the urge to exercise and be active.
“Nobody has made this connection and it’s time for an intervention,” says Ghosh. “If someone is beginning an exercise program without taking a close look at the fats they’re consuming or changing what they’re eating, then they might be doomed to failure.” Try using canola oil, olive oil, or peanut oil more for cooking, he says. (Here are some more sources of monounsaturated fatty acids.) And cut back on soybean, sunflower, and corn oils; also, check the ingredient lists of your favorite foods, he says, because polyunsaturated fats turn up in chips, energy bars, crackers, and cookies. “I am not a dietitian nor a medical doctor, but all recent evidence points out switching to monounsaturated fats, and that even a saturated fat like butter might be healthier,” says Ghosh. “People should still limit total food intake and that includes all oils. Just because butter may be better, eating a tubful in one sitting is bad, of course.”