The secret to good health is a proper diet and exercise. And the role of olive oil in the former is well known. But new research suggests that eating olive oil rather than other common oils may make also people more likely to exercise.

Nobody has made this connection and it's time for an intervention.- Sanjoy Ghosh, University of British Columbia

Sanjoy Ghosh, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has found that consuming large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in corn, sunflower, and similar oils) rather than monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in olive oil, makes people fat and lazy.

The effects are particularly pronounced in girls and young women.

Ghosh, working with a team of researchers and data analysts, showed that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) correlated with TV watching and other sedentary behaviors.

PUFAs are commonly found in convenience foods like chips and cookies. No such correlation was found with the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in olive and avocado oils.

Interestingly, consuming the saturated fats in meat and dairy products also did not lead to sedentary behavior, the researchers said.

The new research throws much of existing food science into question. PUFAs, for example, are also commonly found in salmon, which is widely believed to be healthy. And saturated fats have long been criticized by health advocates.

Put down the cookie, and shut off the TV

The researchers studied females in 21 European countries. The first stage of the study focused on pre-teen girls. The second stage examined adult women. Blood glucose levels, hours of television watching, and other indicators were recorded.

The results, Ghosh told reporters, show a clear connection to the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and an increase in sedentary behavior. A significant correlation was shown between the sedentary behavior of the 11-year-old girls and PUFAs. In addition, the consumption of PUFAs was weakly associated with diabetes among adult women.

“Nobody has made this connection and it’s time for an intervention,” Ghosh said in a press release. “And if someone is beginning an exercise program without taking a close look at the fats, especially PUFAs they are consuming or changing what they’re eating, then it might be doomed to failure.”

The research was funded was by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Egg Farmers of Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada and Canadian Diabetes Association.

The study, published in the PLOS One research journal, follows a 2015 study by Ghosh and other scientists that consuming omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, or n-6 PUFA, is associated with sedentary behavior in mice.

“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,” said Ghosh.

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