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My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer. By the time the first symptom arose—a dull ache in his gut—it was too late. Pancreatic cancer is among the most lethal forms of cancer, with just 6 percent of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. As many as 20 percent of cases may be a result of tobacco smoking, and other modifiable risk factors include obesity and heavy alcohol consumption. Specific dietary factors may also play a significant role in this deadly disease’s development. For instance, how the fat in our diet may contribute to pancreatic cancer risk has long been a subject of debate. The inconsistency of research findings on the impact of total fat intake may be partly because different fats affect risk differently. The expansive National Institutes of Health and American Association of Retired Persons co-sponsored study was the first to separate out the role of fats from animal sources, including meats, dairy products, and eggs, versus plant sources, such as those in nuts, seeds, olive and vegetable oils, as well as avocados. The consumption of fat from all animal sources was significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk, but no correlation was found with the consumption of plant fats.

Not all fats affect our muscle cells similarly either. For example, palmitate, the saturated fat found mostly in meat, dairy, and eggs, causes insulin resistance, while oleate, the monounsaturated fat found mostly in nuts, olives, and avocados, may actually protect against saturated fats’ detrimental effects. Saturated fats may result in the accumulation of more toxic breakdown products and free radicals, and can cause inflammation and the dysfunction of the little power plants in our cells (mitochondria). Monounsaturated fats, however, are more likely to be detoxified by the body or safely stored away.

When paired with greens, healthy fat sources—such as from avocados—may maximize nutrient absorption, as many of the nutrients greens are famous for are fat soluble, including beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin K, and zeaxanthin. Similarly, adding some avocado to our salsa may triple the amount of fat-soluble nutrients that make it into our bloodstream. Just three grams of fat in an entire hot meal may be sufficient to boost absorption, a single walnut or a spoonful of avocado. The greens and fat source just have to end up in our stomach at the same time.

Image Credit: Pixabay. This image has been modified.

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