Researchers from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Jaén (UJA) have studied the effects of three high-fat diets based on coconut, sunflower and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on adipose tissue, metabolism and inflammation. The study corroborates that EVOO contributes to prevent chronic diseases in contrast to campaigns promoting coconut oil, a fat without sufficient scientific evidence to support its beneficial impact on people’s health.
This research project arises from a context of expansion of diets based on a high intake of calories, saturated fats and sugars. To carry out the work, the team of scientists from the UJA developed a comparative analysis of the effect of three high-fat diets, EVOO, sunflower oil and coconut oil, in three groups of mice. “Specifically, this study has been focused on coconut oil, because different media claim it is a healthy oil at a cardiovascular level, that it helps to lose weight in a healthy way and to improve the lipid profile in the blood (triglycerides, cholesterol…)”, says José Juan Gaforio, professor of Immunology at the UJA and main responsible for the research.
In this sense, the aim of the study is to obtain scientific evidence on the real impact of coconut oil on health, because new trends promote its intake as the healthiest source of vegetable fat. “Non-scientific articles has a decisive influence on opinions,” says the professor of Immunology at the UJA, who suspects economic interests on promoting certain oils without enough “scientific evidence”. Thus, he claims that the purpose of this study is to find out “what effects each of these fats has on the metabolism, on the inflammatory state and on adipose tissue”.
Among the results obtained, the UJA professor highlights that the diet rich in coconut oil causes a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone. “This decrease does not help to reduce appetite, but it does provoke a constant desire to eat,” says Professor Gaforio. This hormone is also linked to the immune system and to thermogenesis, the process of heat production in the individual’s body that helps burn stored fat. A decrease in leptin is also associated with some pathologies such as lipodystrophy. “On the other hand, diets that use EVOO achieve an increase in the leptin hormone, favouring an anti-inflammatory state, which, in Gaforio’s opinion, is very interesting for preventing chronic diseases. Another of the results obtained corroborates that EVOO has a thermogenic effect, which prevents the human body from accumulating fat.
The results of this research support that not all fats are equally healthy, as they have a very different immunometabolic impact. On this point, the UJA professor regrets the promotion of coconut oil by certain media “without scientific evidence”, and, at the same time, deplores the fact that Nutri-Score (the front-end food labelling system) treats all fats in the same way. Nutri-Score considers that any edible fat has the same effect and gives them the same letter, which in our case does not benefit Extra Virgin Olive Oil and ” some health authorities do not seem to be so clear on this obvious issue”.
The study, recently published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, was led by José Juan Gaforio, professor of Immunology at the UJA, and is part of the results of Carmen Rodríguez-García’s doctoral thesis. The other co-authors of the article are Cristina Sánchez- Quesada and Ignacio Algarra. Its funding comes from the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) and FEDER funds, through the ‘CIEN Programme’.