Let’s face it, life isn’t fair.  The conclusion becomes all the more unavoidable when we contemplate the genetic lottery.  Whether on the superficial side–of who inherits the higher cheekbones or thicker eyelashes–or more serious side, of lives cut short by mortal diseases, we’re all dealt a genetic hand to play.  But when it comes to genes affecting obesity, it turns out how we play our cards may afford us a little more control over our dietary destiny.

Tufts University researchers have explored how saturated fat intake impacts a person’s genetic expression of obesity risk.  A team of scientists led by Jose M. Ordovas, Ph.D., Director of the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) identified 63 obesity related gene variants, and employed them in predicting obesity risk scores for over 2,800 Caucasian adult study participants.  The findings, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that eating less saturated fat –from beef, pork, full-fat dairy such as cheese and butter, etc. — correlated with lower Body Mass Indices (BMIs) even among those with a genetic predisposition towards obesity.  For those seeking to fight back against fat-favoring genes, limiting saturated fat intake would would not only reduce overall calorie intake, but may help to level the genetic playing field.

Previous research has indicated that higher intakes of saturated fat may interfere with our ability to “feel full.”  For example, one study found that palmitic acid, a saturated fat found in meat and full-fat dairy, as well as in the palm oil used extensively in shelf-stable junk foods, reduced the brain’s normal response to satiety hormones.  Higher saturated intake is linked to greater risk of heart disease, stroke, prostate and colorectal cancer.  If reforming your diet seems like a tall order, start with more manageable steps, such as setting aside one day a week to consciously avoid the biggest source of saturated fat: meat.  Going meatless on Monday–or the day of your choosing–may be enough to reduce your saturated fat intake by 15%.

 Published July 1, 2014