A healthy diet could protect you from the negative effects of obesity, even if you’re already overweight.
A lack of inflammation may explain why some obese people appear to be “fit and fat,” according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Some people are able to avoid the negative health effects of being obese, and researchers from the University College Cork in Ireland found that this may be because they don’t experience the same inflammation as other obese people. Experts say it’s likely a result of what you eat.
Inflammation in the body, which is typically worsened by obesity, is thought to be one of the leading contributors to conditions such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to the study. The researchers looked at 2,040 people, half of whom were obese, and administered blood tests to measure their inflammatory markers, and found that regardless of weight, people with lower levels of inflammatory markers were less likely to have underlying health issues.
“In our study, metabolically healthy people – both obese and non-obese – had lower levels of a range of inflammatory markers,” study author Catherine Phillips, PhD, a researcher with University College Cork, said in a statement.
And while it is unclear why exactly some people can be fit and fat, Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietician with the Cleveland Clinic, said much of it can be attributed to diet.
“It could be genetics, but I would say that diet plays a larger role,” Kirkpatrick said. “What you eat can cause inflammation. If your diet consists of lots of vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods, you’re going to have less inflammation than if you ate a lot of sugar.”
The findings show that there is more to being unhealthy than just your weight, she added.
“A patient with a normal BMI and an atrocious diet may not be as healthy as someone who is overweight but is trying to eat healthy,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t want to give people in excuse to be fat, but there’s more to your health than just weight.”
However, she stressed that people trying be healthy shouldn’t disregard their weight completely.
“We know that if you are obese and you lose just 10 percent of your body weight, your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes goes down significantly,” Kirkpatrick said.
But eating a healthy diet, especially one low in sugar, will do double duty, Kirkpatrick said, as it will help you lose weight and reduce inflammation.
“An excessive amount of sugar can damage and inflame arteries,” she said. “This inflammation can be dangerous. It can raise your risk of stroke or heart disease.”
While being obese doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop diabetes or heart disease, the researchers said, being thin is still preferable, and the findings from this study could help pinpoint who exactly needs the most help losing weight.
“From a public health standpoint, we need better methods for identifying which obese people face the greatest risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Dr. Phillips said in a statement. “Inflammatory markers offer a potential strategy for pinpointing people who could benefit most from medical interventions.”