Love Muffins? See what could help or hurt your cholesterol!

muffins in a tin

No, there isn’t any such thing as the “muffin diet” to lower cholesterol.  Oh darn!  Actually, the topic today is more about the type of oil used in making your muffins and less about the actual muffins.  Let me explain –

Swedish researchers did a study published this month in the Journal of the American Heart Association.  For the study 39 adults were selected who were lean and healthy, averaged 27 years old and had normal, healthy cholesterol levels.  The study lasted 7 weeks and the goal was to have the participants gain weight during that period by eating muffins (240 calories each) in addition to their regular diet. The muffins had identical content EXCEPT for the type of oil (fat) that was used in making the muffins.  One group got muffins made with Sunflower Oil and the other group got muffins made with Palm Oil.  Both of these oils are from vegetable sources.  The major difference is that Sunflower Oil is an unsaturated fat and Palm Oil is a saturated fat.  In the study, they wanted the participants to gain about 3% of their body weight from the extra “muffin” calories.  Now, you are seeing the real reason for the study … to see if eating unsaturated fat is as healthy as or more healthy than eating saturated fat in a situation of modest but rapid weight gain.  Remember, both of the oils come from a vegetable source.

The findings of the study showed:

  • Both groups gained about 3.5 lbs during the seven weeks.
  • Both groups ate 3 muffins each day on average.
  • At the end of the 7 weeks, the Sunflower Oil group showed decreased total cholesterol, decreased  LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and decreased HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio …..  these are all good and desirable results.
  • At the end of the 7 weeks, the Palm Oil group showed increased total cholesterol, increased  LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, decreased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and increased  HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio …..  these are all NOT good or desirable results.

Wow, those are pretty shocking results:  a group of healthy young adults ate excessive calories gaining 3.5 lbs over a 7 week period and even with that, the unsaturated oil (sunflower) group improved all of the cholesterol values and the saturated oil (palm) group developed worsened cholesterol values.  Folks, that is a pretty straight-forward study … the unsaturated oil was healthier when it comes to healthy cholesterol levels.

So, what should you do?  Well, if you are making muffins and you are concerned about your cholesterol, pick an unsaturated oil.  Unsaturated oils come as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.  Look in the additional resources section for lists of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats, as well as the American Heart Association’s recommendations of how much fat you should get, and how much of that fat should come from saturated fats.

Oh, and don’t be a purist about avoiding saturated fats.  There is good scientific data being generated that document excellent health benefits of saturated fats. There is something to be said for healthful moderation. OK, gotta run …. My pumpkin spice muffins are ready to come out of the oven!!

Additional Resources:

American Heart Association Recommendations

Monounsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated Fats

Saturated Fats

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