Fighting Belly Fat: Which Oil Is Best?

By David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center Director, Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital

Posted on | By David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP

Oil reduces friction and is the substance of choice for "greasing the skids" – both literal and figurative. So what could be more natural than using oil to grease the skids for weight loss? 

Thinking of this sort – along with a few small studies – may be what prompted the development of a product called SafSlim. The principal ingredient is safflower oil, and the contention is that safflower oil facilitates the mobilization of belly fat. 

Safflower oil is predominantly polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) come in several varieties. As a class, they have generally been associated with favorable health effects. Omega-3 PUFAs, in which we tend to be deficient, are clearly beneficial for most of us. They have anti-inflammatory effects and tend to have favorable effects on body fat deposition.

However, safflower oil is not a source of omega-3s. It is, instead, a source of omega-6 PUFAs. These, too, are essential, but if anything, we tend to get more than we need from the oils used in processed foods. Most omega-6s have pro-inflammatory effects, and generally do not have the favorable associations with weight control that the omega-3s have. 

If oil is going to be used in the fight against fat, the best choice would almost certainly be olive oil. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat (MUFA), the mainstay of the famous Mediterranean diet. Numerous large, long-term studies have demonstrated a powerful association between relatively high dietary intake of MUFAs, and reduced risk of abdominal obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Perhaps the final word on this topic is that while some kinds of abdominal fat can be particularly dangerous, there tends to be a silver lining. Abdominal fat tends to mobilize first when a meaningful weight-loss effort is made. In other words, the best and most reliable way to reduce harmful belly fat is simply to eat well and exercise.

If I were using oil to grease the skids for losing belly fat, my top picks would be omega-3 oils from fish, krill, seafood, algae, flaxseeds and/or walnuts, olive oil and canola oil, which is a source of both MUFAs and omega-3s. 

But I would place an even greater emphasis on a different kind of oil altogether: elbow grease!

Article written by David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP
Director, Yale University Prevention Research CenterDirector, Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital