Canola oil health benefits include reducing belly fat and lowering metabolic syndrome risk, say the researchers behind a new clinical trial. Metabolic syndrome is the name for a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, which affect one in three American adults, and research suggests that it can be fought by sticking to a Mediterranean diet rich in monounsaturated fats.

American and Canadian researchers, who presented their findings at the American Heart Association's 2013 EPI/NPAM Scientific Sessions in New Orleans, found that canola oils used in cooking can decrease abdominal fat.

"The monounsaturated fats in these vegetable oils appear to reduce abdominal fat, which in turn may decrease metabolic syndrome risk factors," said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor at Penn State, in a news release.

The clinical trial included 121 participants who had risk factors risk factors for metabolic syndrome, which include high abdominal fat, high triglyceride levels in the blood, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.

The participants were put on a heart-healthy 2000-calorie per day diet for four weeks, and given a daily smoothie with 40 added grams of one of five oils: canola oil, high-oleic canola oil, flax/safflower oil, corn/safflower oil, and a high-oleic canola enriched with omega-3 fatty acids.

The results showed that the participants who were given canola or high-oleic canola oil for four weeks decreased their abdominal fat by 1.6 percent over those who had the flax/safflower oil. Corn/safflower oil and high-oleic canola oil with omega-3 fatty acids had no effect on abdominal fat.

Canola oils are high in monounsaturated fats, which can reduce bad cholesterol and promote heart health benefits. Flax/safflower and corn/safflower oils, on the other hand, contain low levels of monounsaturated fats.

The researchers concluded that consuming canola oil might be a simple way to reduce belly fat and metabolic syndrome risk, though the surest ways to cut that risk, according to the American Heart Association, are maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Monounsaturated fats are also present in large amounts in olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, peanut butter, and many nuts and seeds. This study, sponsored by the Canola Council of Canada, did not test these rich sources of monounsaturated fats, which are also likely to help cut down abdominal fat and metabolic syndrome risk.

Recent research has established the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated fats, especially olive oil, in preventing heart disease and promoting longevity.

"It is evident that further studies are needed to determine the mechanisms that account for belly fat loss on a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids," said Kris-Etherton in the release.

"Our study indicates that simple dietary changes, such as using vegetable oils high in monounsaturated fatty acids, may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and therefore heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes."