Is fat as bad as we’ve been told? Earlier this week the British newspapers were reporting that the guidelines that were introduced in the UK in 1983 (and a few years earlier to the USA) regarding the consumption of dairy fats and carbohydrates lacked a solid scientific basis. You might well find yourself confused and wondering whether this latest report is any more accurate than the one from the 80’s.
I’ve been reading up on this because a lot of the headlines seem keen to report that scientific opinion has been reversed and eating large quantities of fat is now good for you! This isn’t quite the case; one of the best, least biased reports I’ve found so far is this NHS article which explains the original study in detail and also links to a free online version of the new study. Basically, the authors of the new study claim that, because the original studies were carried out exclusively on men who already had cardiovascular disease – and concentrated on whether a change of diet could reduce the risk of further “disease events”, this evidence didn’t support the introduction of dietary recommendations for the whole population.
However, the original recommendation given by the British and American governments was to reduce overall fat consumption to 30% of total energy intake, and saturated fat consumption to 10% of total energy intake. This in itself is reasonable advice. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people replaced their fat intake with sugar-based carbohydrates, which we now know are equally as likely to cause obesity.
So what should we do? It’s quite true that saturated fats aren’t as dangerous as we’ve been told. But that doesn’t mean we should be eating sticks of butter without expecting it to have any effect on our health! What this study has basically shown is that saturated fats aren’t the only factor in causing poor cardiac health and obesity, and the advice given may have been premature. Rather than cutting down on one food group because we’ve read a report that it’s unhealthy, try to maintain a diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and protein, moderate amounts of dairy (unless you know you are lactose intolerant) and small quantities of foods high in fat and sugar. Changing your diet as a result of one newspaper article (usually with an attention-grabbing headline) is rarely a good idea!