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Fat – the whole truth

Last Updated: 20 January 2019








Fat – the whole truth

You’ve probably read at least one article in the last few weeks spreading the happy news that we’re now allowed to pile on the butter thick, fill up on full-fat cream and put down the low-fat diet products. Hooray! Great news right? Well, without wanting to be a killjoy, before you start pouring full-fat cream on your cornflakes, let’s first take a look at what caused this news frenzy and if we should be taking the latest nutrition findings with a pinch of salt (and some butter!).

Why the turnaround?

Over 30 years ago public health guidelines were published advising people to limit their overall fat consumption to 30% of their total energy intake, and reduce saturated fat consumption to 10% of their total energy intake. This advice has not changed in over three decades. Yet at the start of February this year, a new review published in the peer-reviewed journal Open Heart, challenged the science behind these recommendations. They looked at six randomised controlled trials that were used to guide the recommendations and found that of these 6 trials, none actually supported the theory that high saturated fat intake increases risk of death from heart disease or other causes. The authors of this most recent review therefore concluded that the advice produced in the 80s, and the theory that saturated fat increases heart disease risk is actually unsupported.

It’s interesting to note that in line with the recommendations, intake of saturated fat found in foods such as lard and butter has fallen over the past thirty years, yet intake of vegetable oils, sugar and refined carbohydrates has increased dramatically – as have rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. So it could be argued that while levels of heart disease in (the UK)(Australia) have fallen slightly over the past few decades, the fact that it’s still the leading preventable cause of death in the nation may not be down to the contribution of saturated fat, and other dietary and lifestyle factors such as sugar intake and inactivity may be of greater concern. 

So should we go back to basics and start dunking our bread in dripping and switching the olive oil back to butter and lard? The advice from most dietitians and nutritionists and at the time of writing, from the government bodies, is to keep an eye on foods high in saturated fats like butter, cheese and cream as they are high in calories -  whatever the source, taking in too many calories will lead to weight gain and the associated health problems. But we may well find there is soon a shift in the recommendation to limit saturated fat intake to 10 of total energy intake with a greater focus on intake of other potentially more damaging food groups. Watch this space!



Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)


Harcombe Z, Baker JS, Cooper SM, et al. Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart 2015;2:e000196. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000196

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