12 January - 20 June 2016

Report questioning the official dietary guidelines on saturated fat causes backlash from the scientific community

A controversial report, highly cited by the media and the scientific community has called for an "overhaul" of dietary guidelines. The report, published by National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration (PHE) questions current dietary government recommendations on following a low-fat, low cholesterol diet, discussing the current Eatwell Guide, published by Public Health England.

A controversial report, highly cited by the media and the scientific community has called for an "overhaul" of dietary guidelines.  The report, published by National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration (PHE) questions current dietary government recommendations on following a low-fat, low cholesterol diet, discussing the current Eatwell Guide, published by Public Health England. It notes three main concerns with this guidance: the avoidance of foods because of their saturated fat content; the dietary reference value of no more than 35% total fat; and the quality and quantity of carbohydrates. 

The authors state that although PHE recommend the avoidance of foods because of saturated food content, saturated fat isn’t an issue of concern.  The report cites a number studies as their evidence, stating that there “was never any strong evidence to recommend reducing total and saturated fat consumption.”  The authors indicate that if consumers had been advised to eat food in their “natural form” rather than “man-made low-fat foods”, there wouldn’t be a high rate of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  

It questions why dietary fats dietary reference values are set at no more than 35% total fat. The report claims that according to up to date analysis of scientific literature, a carbohydrate diet has been found to reduce heart disease risk and weight loss and contains more than 35% of total fat intake. 

In discussion of its final concern “the quality and quantity of carbohydrate” it notes that the Eatwell Guide recommends we eat food high in glycaemic load and also foods that have high carbohydrate density at every meal and suggests that these foods raise blood insulin levels, associated with increased rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity.  They suggest eating foods with a lower carbohydrate density will achieve more stable blood glucose and insulin levels, in addition to significantly reducing hunger when compared to a low fat diet. The report recommends focusing on foods that “have a carbohydrate-density of less than 25%, as they are usually found in their natural form.”

Regarding healthy eating guidelines, the report suggests that minimum intake of essential nutrients should be the focus of healthy eating guidelines rather than maximum amounts, noting that “carbohydrate is not an essential nutrient for sustaining human health but is part of a healthy diet as long as a person’s minimum intake of fat and protein are met”. 

The rest of the report includes a large section on weight loss, stating "Our main concern with current weight loss advice from NICE and the NHS is that only one option is recommended despite the scientific evidence repeatedly showing that ad libitum low-carbohydrate-high-fat (LCHF) diets are more effective for weight loss and result in better improved overall cardiovascular disease risk."   The authors suggest, that after reviewing available literature, “advising an ad libitum low carbohydrate high fat diet is more effective at lowering weight and improving other health outcome than the current NICE guidelines”.

The Collaboration documented a new form of the Eatwell Guide entitled "The Real Food Lifestyle" which has a 50:50 split of fats and proteins against carbohydrates.  All food and drinks on the wheel are in their natural form. They emphasise carbohydrates with a density less than 25% and a minimum of 1g protein per 1kg bodyweight per day.

In response to the report PHE have stated “In the face of all the evidence, calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible. Unlike this opinion piece, our independent experts review all the available evidence.” 

The Guardian notes The British Dietetic Association, which represents dieticians is warning that advising people to eat more saturated fat “could be extremely dangerous”. The article also reports that a number of renowned authorities on obesity and medical organisations plan to review their links with the National Obesity Forum because it was “inexcusable to confuse the public with incorrect science”.

RSSL's Lipids Laboratory, part of the Investigative Analysis Team can determine the fatty acid profile of all dietary fats and oils. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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