Yup, that's the conclusion of a new study from researchers at Ohio State University, which found that a daily dose of safflower oil, a common cooking oil, reduced belly fat and blood sugar and upped "good" cholesterol in women with type 2 diabetes.
For 16 weeks the ladies added about 1 2/3 tsp of safflower oil to their diets without taking other food away. Within 12 weeks their good HDL cholesterol soared by 14 percent. Their blood sugar, insulin sensitivity and levels of inflammation (a known trigger of premature aging and disease) also improved.
So why is this oil so protective? Scientists aren't 100 percent certain, but the oil is very low in saturated fat (think hard sticks of butter) and rich in two types of "good" fats, PUFAs and MUFAs — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids — which other studies have linked to less belly fat and heart protection.
Another factor may be that many women are still fat phobic, and getting too little "good" fat can actually work against you for three reasons. First you need fat to absorb antioxidants, which are also linked to staying leaner. Second too little fat means too many carbs, which can wind up feeding your fat cells. And finally "good" fats fight inflammation, a key factor in deflating muffin tops.
If you're intrigued try it out. Safflower oil is colorless and odorless, so it blends well in many recipes. You can add it to a fruit smoothie, mix it with vinegar and herbs for a simple salad dressing, or use it in a cold vegetable side dish like a tomato, cucumber salad or slaw.
Just be sure not to ignore your extra virgin olive oil. In my newest book Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches I include 19 different types of plant oils, including safflower, extra virgin olive oil (aka EVOO), avocado, almond, coconut and many others. A wider variety means exposing your body to a broader spectrum of nutrients — and it makes meals a lot more interesting!
P.S. In case you were wondering a safflower is a thistle like plant that produces seeds, which are pressed for their oil.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.