A long-awaited and controversial review on the role of saturated fats in the diet has resulted in a major row between government experts and leading health campaigners.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) yesterday published a consultation on its draft review of saturated fats and their effects on health.
The review, which dates back to October 2015, concluded there should be no change in the recommended limit on saturate fat intake, which stands at 10% of daily energy intake for anyone over five years old. This is despite several high-profile studies in recent years claiming the advice is out of touch with new evidence on the causes of obesity.
The SACN committee said it stood by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) recommendations, made in 1994, despite the review having been launched amid a raft of medical reports and media coverage suggesting no significant associations between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease.
SACN said its draft review had in fact found the evidence “supported and strengthened” the original COMA conclusion. It said that no changes to current government advice, which suggests no more than 30g of saturated fat for men and no more than 20g for women, were needed.
The advice also urged consumers to substitute saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as oily fish, unsalted nuts, seeds and avocado.
“Consuming too much saturated fat leads to higher cholesterol levels and heart disease. Current advice is to consume no more than 10% of calories each day from saturated fat and this remains unchanged until we have considered all the responses to our consultation,” said Public Health England chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone.
However, with PHE set to make recommendations to government after the consultation has finished, the draft has sparked a furious argument between SACN’s committee and prominent health campaigners.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist and member of the Academy of Royal Colleges obesity working group, described the findings as “ridiculous”.
He told The Grocer: “These recommendations expose their gross incompetence and also exposes the extent to which the advice of the government’s health experts is being conflicted by their links with the sugar industry.
“There is a huge body of evidence which points towards a new way of looking at fat, yet this is being ignored in favour of a diet which is feeding an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.”
In April last year, Malhotra, along with Professor Rita Redberg, editor of JAMA Internal Medicine and Pascal Meier, editor of BMJ Open Heart, published a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It claimed there was no association between intake of saturated fat and a greater risk of heart disease.
However, with average saturated fat intake currently standing at around 12% of daily calories, SACN said the level was too high and was contributing towards preventable illnesses and premature deaths.
The consultation closes on 3 July.