Fat review re-ignites debate on NZ diet advice

A research review published in the journal Open Heart claims that decades-old recommendations on dietary fat intake in the UK and US are completely unfounded, sparking debates on whether New Zealand’s Ministry of Health should review its current eating guidelines.

800px-CheeseburgerThe authors of the study say that the studies that the recommendations were based on did not include any women, and that no trials tested any dietary guidelines or recommended that any dietary guidelines be drawn up.

“It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men,” they commented.

New Zealand’s recommendations are similar to those in the UK and US, in which we shouldn’t eat more than 12 per cent of our total daily intake as saturated fat.

While the argument over the pros and cons of different types of fats is not a new one, the review has re-ignited discussions on whether meat and dairy are no longer the enemies of obesity, but sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

Otago University’s Professor Jim Mann dismisses the paper’s claims that the fat consumption guidelines should never have been introduced and told Radio New Zealand that the paper was flawed.

“Number one, it’s been totally misquoted. Number two, they cherry-picked even the evidence that they used – there are more trials that could have been quoted. Number three, in 1983 and 1977, the level of evidence that was required to make recommendations is very different to the level of evidence that is required now.”

Dr. Simon Thornley at the University of Auckland agrees that current advice on fats need to be reviewed, as he believes a person’s dietary intake would benefit from increasing fats and restricting starch and sugars.

“When I was practising in hospital I used to tell people to buy green milk and marge over butter,…[and] sugar had been considered a problem in the past and dismissed,” he told Stuff.co.nz.  “Now that sugar is considered more of a problem than we first thought, that made me revisit what I thought about saturated fats.”

However, the Ministry of Health is not considering changing its stance on fats in light of the paper’s publication. National recommendations will continue to advise New Zealanders to lower their saturated fat intake and opt for polyunsaturated fats instead, says Principal Advisor Public Health Dr Harriette Carr.

“Recent claims, highlighted in the media, have promoted high saturated fat diets, opposing widely held nutritional understanding. The link between saturated fat consumption, blood cholesterol levels and heart disease is well established, with evidence building over the past 60 years. The few recent studies that endorse high saturated fat diets are not sufficient to refute the wealth of counter-evidence.” she explained to Stuff.co.nz.

You can read further expert comments here.

The review has been widely covered in New Zealand and global media. Examples include:

Radio New Zealand: Fonterra calls for review of fat guidelines
The New Zealand Herald: Fatty food warnings should have been ignored – research
Otago Daily Times: Butter not better: Mann
Radio New Zealand: Debate over fat consumption claims
Stuff.co.nz: Saturated fat may not be the enemy
BBC News: Food fight: Row over saturated fat advice
Reuters US: The fat fight: Study fuels row over UK, U.S. diet guidelines
TIME: Where Dietary-Fat Guidelines Went Wrong