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Pass the olive oil.

Switching from butter and other foods rich in saturated fat to polyunsaturated foods lowers blood levels of cholesterol, and this effect has formed the basis of many an advertisement for margarine and vegetable oil. But a fat "in between" these two types may actually be better, say Scott M. Grundy of the University of Texas in Dallas and Fred H. Mattson of the University of California at San Diego.

Saturation is determined by the number of double bonds along a fat molecule's 16- to 18-carbon-long chain. Saturated fats have no double bonds--their carbons are fully saturated with hydrogen. Polyunsaturates have two or more double bonds, and monounsaturates--"the middle ground"--have one.

Recent research has shown that high doses of polyunsaturates can promote cancer in animals, alter cell membranes and possibly increase the risk of gallstones.

"This makers people leery about using polyunsaturates in large amounts in the diet," says Grundy.

So he and Mattson took a look at monounsaturates. They suspected a beneficial effect because people in the Mediterranean basin who rely on olive oil, a monounsaturate, have a low rate of cardiovascular disease and, presumably, low cholesterol levels.

The researchers fed 20 men liquid diets in which 40 percent of the calories were from fat. The men got one month each of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fat.

Blood evaluations showed that poly- and monounsaturated fat were about equal in lowering total cholesterol, and that the monounsaturated diet lowered harmful LDL cholesterol more effectively while lowering the "good" HDL cholesterol less frequently, they report in the current (February) JOURNAL OF LIPID RESEARCH.

"I think epidemiological data are a strong recommendation for olive oil. Our results provide a rationale for that," says Grundy. Currently marketed polyunsaturated fats could easily be treated and transformed into monounsaturated fats if industry saw a demand, he says.
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Title Annotation:health advantages of monounsaturated fat
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 6, 1985
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