If you struggle to maintain a healthy weight, you certainly aren’t alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or have obesity, and obesity rates in children remain high.
When weight becomes a concern, people often turn to diets. There are dozens or even hundreds of diet plans that all claim they hold the key to good health. Atkins, keto, paleo, which diet is for you? You may already have tried them with little or no success. Is eliminating saturated fat the answer? For decades, saturated fats have been blamed for weight gain, high cholesterol, and other health problems. But is saturated fat really the culprit? Genetic research may help scientists learn why people become overweight and how they can regain their health without turning to unhealthy and expensive weight loss programs.
Saturated fats are single-bond fats. They are typically solid at room temperature and come mainly from animal-derived foods like meat, poultry, butter, cheese, and milk. The fat in coconut oil and palm oil is also considered saturated fat. Recommendations from various health organizations have encouraged Americans to reduce the amount of saturated fats in their diets. However, obesity and related diseases have continued to rise. Are saturated fats “good” or “bad?” Conflicting health studies make it impossible to offer a definitive answer.
Saturated fats from grass-fed beef may be less harmful than saturated fats from a fast food hamburger. Some studies recommend a severe limitation of dietary saturated fats, while others suggest saturated fat does not pose a health hazard.
What is a health-conscious person to do? Fats are an important part of the human diet, and like all nutrients, they should be consumed in balance for optimal health.
But each person is unique, and the answer that applies best to you could lie in your DNA. New studies indicate certain genetic variants affect the way people process saturated fats and influence the effect of saturated fat on weight.
Even if a person is genetically predisposed to developing a substance use disorder, their actions are still their responsibility. The same is true for overeating or eating unhealthy foods. However, in both cases, understanding the connection between your health and your DNA can help you make better choices.
If your genetics put you at a higher risk for addiction, avoiding addictive substances is a wise choice. If your genetics put you at a higher risk of gaining weight from saturated fat, it’s smart to limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet.
Research on two variants related to the APOA2 gene (the GG genotype) found that people with those variants tend to weigh more than people without the variants, even when all study participants were following a diet high in saturated fat.
For people with the APOA2 variants, limiting saturated fat intake could help them reach or maintain a healthy weight. Of course, factors such as other genetic variants, exercise, and overall dietary habits also matter.
Now, there are many different types of diets out there, but most target macronutrients. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) form the crux of your daily diet. Dietary fats we often care about include cholesterol, unsaturated ('good') fats, and saturated ('bad') fats. It is important to note that although dietary fats have gotten a very bad reputation over the years, recent research has shown that saturated fats are not as bad for you as previously thought.
Still, evidence shows that we should all work to include more unsaturated fats in our diets. While many different social, cultural, and environmental factors affect why people eat different amounts of carbs, proteins, and fats, our preferences for diet may also be genetically based (research suggests that macronutrients intake is up to 65% heritable!).
Several gene loci have been implicated in their link to fat intake in multiple genome-wide association studies. Among them, loci in the fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) gene and the fat mass obesity-associated protein (FTO) gene are of great interest. For example, individuals with the minor variant at a FGF21 gene locus had more energy coming from carbs, and less from fats. These studies are especially interesting because genes like FGF21 and FTO have been implicated in lipid metabolism and obesity, respectively. Learn more through this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23636237
There’s no question that genetics influence your body shape and size, but having certain genetic variations doesn’t mean you are destined to be overweight. Discovering how DNA influences your health opens up opportunities to take better care of yourself. The latest diet fad may not hold the key to meeting your health goals, but DNA testing just might.
What is your genetic predisposition for fat intake? Do you have the genetic variants that make saturated fat more problematic? Check Genomelink today and learn more!