Study: High-fat diet can prevent obesity in mice

Hebrew University finds that "carefully scheduled" high-fat meals can "reset" metabolism, prevent obesity, at least in lab mice.

September 12, 2012 00:04
2 minute read.

PROFESSOR OREN FROY of Hebrew U 370. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)


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In completely counter-intuitive research, scientists at the Hebrew University have found that high-fat meals served at the same time and for the same length of time every day can “reset” metabolism and prevent obesity – that is, at least in laboratory mice.

The research, just published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB Journal), was conducted by Prof.

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Oren Froy along with Prof. Zecharia Madar, research student Yoni Genzer and research fellow Dr. Hadas Sherman at the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The timed, “carefully scheduled” high-fat diet leads to increased insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation, and a decrease in body weight, fat profile and inflammation.

The results were comparable to those in mice fed a low-fat diet.

“Because a high-fat diet is difficult to abstain from, the timing of meals can be suggested for individuals seeking weight loss and better reset metabolism,” they wrote.

With timed eating, the high-fat diet can lead to a reduction in body weight and a unique metabolism in which, instead of storing fat, the body uses it for energy at times when no food is available.

Previous research has shown that disrupting mammals’ daily rhythms or feeding them a high-fat diet disrupts metabolism and leads to obesity. The HU researchers wanted to determine the effect of combining a high-fat diet with long-term feeding on a fixed schedule.

They suggested that a careful scheduling of meals would regulate the biological clock (circadian rhythm) and reduce the effects of a highfat diet that under normal circumstances would lead to obesity.

For 18 weeks, they fed a group of mice a high-fat diet on a fixed schedule, comparing the results with mice in three control groups – one that ate a low-fat diet on a fixed schedule, a second that ate an unscheduled low-fat diet in the quantity and frequency of its choosing, and a third that ate an unscheduled high-fat diet.

All four groups of mice gained weight throughout the experiment. The mice on the scheduled high-fat diet had a lower final body weight than the mice eating an unscheduled high-fat diet. Surprisingly, the mice on the scheduled high-fat diet also had a lower final body weight than the mice that ate an unscheduled low-fat diet, even though both groups consumed the same amount of calories.

In addition, the mice on the scheduled high-fat diet showed a unique metabolic state in which the fats they ingested were not stored but rather utilized for energy at times when no food was available, such as between meals.

According to Froy, “Our research shows that the timing of food consumption takes precedence over the amount of fat in the diet, leading to improved metabolism and helping to prevent obesity. Improving metabolism through the careful scheduling of meals, without limiting the content of the daily menu, could be used as a therapeutic tool to prevent obesity in humans.”

Thus, snacking on potato chips and hamburgers in front of the TV set is out, and eating solid, even highfat, meals sitting around the family dining table at the same time every day will enable you to buckle your belts.

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