Public Health England (PHE) and the Food and Drink Federation have condemned “misleading” headlines based on a new paper about dietary advice issued on fat consumption in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The paper, published in respected online medical journal Open Heart, said historic US and UK dietary advice on fats “should not have been introduced”, as it lacked any solid trial evidence to back it up.
The researchers wrote: “It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220m Americans and 56m UK citizens given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men.”
The Daily Mail latched onto the research with the headline: ”Butter ISN’T bad for you after all: Major study says 80s advice on dairy fats was flawed”.
However, Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “This paper is not critical of current advice on saturated fats but suggests that the advice was introduced prematurely in the 1980s before there was the extensive evidence base that exists today.”
The advice from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy 14 years ago – disbanded in 2000 – confirmed that eating too much saturated fat could raise cholesterol levels which increased the risk of heart disease, Dr Tedstone said. The US Institute of Medicine reviewed the evidence in 2002, the World Health Organisation, in 2008, the European Food Safety Authority, in 2010 and the Cochrane Collaboration, in 2012, each of which reaffirmed the link between consumption of saturated fats and raised cholesterol levels, according to the PHE.
Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “We strongly agree that dietary guidance and public health policy should be underpinned by robust and up-to-date science which informs consumer behaviour and industry action.”
“Rather than seeking sensationalist headlines which threaten to leave consumers utterly confused, offering practical support on how to achieve a healthier overall diet and more active lives holds far more long-term value and is an approach we should all get behind,” Gallani said.
Rahul Bahl, from the Department of Cardiology, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, in Reading, said: “There is epidemiological and ecological evidence suggesting a link between dietary fat and heart disease, added to which public policies generally don’t require randomised controlled trial evidence.”
However, he cautioned that there was “a strong argument” that an overreliance in public health on saturated fat as the main dietary villain for cardiovascular disease had “distracted” from the risks posed by other nutrients, such as carbohydrates.
Dr Anne Mullen, Director of Nutrition at The Dairy Council said said: “Butter and full-fat milk are nutrient-rich products that have been consumed as part of diet for many hundreds of years. Public guidelines should be clear, recognisable and achievable. It is more important to look at the science-based evidence over many years, rather than individual studies, and there is a very strong body of evidence to demonstrate the nutritional qualities of dairy products.
”They have stood the test of time well. An excess in consumption of saturated fat contained in any foods would not be a good, balanced diet but the reality is that anyone putting butter on their toast in the morning or drinking full-fat milk - unless they have a particular medical condition - can do so in the knowledge that these are nutritionally sound products. The overarching issue in terms of saturated fat is the amount rather than the existence of it in a particular product.”