An Unlikely Ally Against Cancer

Fat helps body absorb disease-fighting agents from vegetables, study suggests

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TUESDAY, July 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Fat can actually be your friend in fighting cancer, an Iowa State University study claims.

Researchers found you need at least a bit of fat in your salad for your body to absorb the cancer-fighting agents found in salad vegetables. The fat helps promote absorption of lycopene and alpha and beta carotenes, which can help protect you from cancer and heart disease, researcher Wendy White said in a statement.

"We're certainly not advocating a high-fat diet or one filled with full-fat salad dressing. If you'd like to stick with fat-free dressing, the addition of small amounts of avocado or cheese in a salad may help along the absorption," said White, an associate professor of food science and nutrition.

"Our findings are actually consistent with U.S. dietary guidelines, which support a diet moderate, rather than very low, in fat. But what we found compelling was that some of our more popular healthful snacks, like baby carrots, really need to be eaten with a source of fat for us to absorb the beta carotene," White said.

The 12-week study, published in the July 22 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, included men and women between the ages of 19 and 28. They ate salads of spinach, romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and carrots, topped with Italian dressings containing 0, 6 or 28 grams of canola oil.

Hourly blood samples were collected from the study participants for 11 hours after each meal. No beta carotene absorption was detected when they ate salads with fat-free dressings. Much greater absorption of lycopene and alpha and beta carotene was detected when they ate salads with full-fat dressings, compared with low-fat dressings.

More information

Iowa State University has more about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.

SOURCE: Iowa State University, news release, July 23, 2004

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