Our war on obesity should instead tackle the real culprits, sugar and carbs, says Joanna Blythman

Now the Danish government has imposed a tax on foods with more than 2.5% saturated fat, we can expect demands for similar legislation in the UK. This would delight the dietary establishment, which has been parroting the anti-sat fat gospel for half a century without feeling the need to review it in any way. But such a tax would be nonsense. The truth is, there is no sound evidence implicating sat fat in increasing rates of obesity and diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, it’s time to revisit the dominant nutritional script.

I recently attended a fascinating conference where independent medics and nutritionists challenged the demonisation of natural fats from animal sources. They demonstrated how, time and again, research findings have been tortuously shoehorned into fitting the anti-sat fat paradigm, pointing to all the ‘anomalies’ that never fitted the theory. Why, they asked, when consumption of sat fat has decreased in both the UK and US, are populations increasingly ill and obese? Might it have something to do with the supposedly healthier but denatured vegetable fats we have been actively encouraged to eat? Not just the old lethal trans fats in early margarines, but the industrially-refined oils used extensively in processed foods?

The previously underestimated role of vitamin D in supporting good health, especially in sun-challenged Northern and Eastern European countries, was also centre stage. The best sources of this fat-soluble micronutrient, it was pointed out, are animal foods. When we diligently drink low-fat milk or avoid cream and fatty meat, we deprive ourselves of a crucial vitamin.

Speakers and experts were united in seeing much more emerging evidence for the theory that the key cause of obesity and diet-related disease is increased consumption of sugars and starchy carbohydrate foods. These wreak havoc with insulin and blood sugar, encouraging the liver to lay down fat. Ironically, people now eat more carbohydrate and sugar-rich foods because they don’t break the ‘no-fat’ rule.

Interestingly, Denmark’s fat attack is at odds with nutritional thinking in Hungary, where the government recently imposed a tax on foods with high levels of sugar and carbs. At least one government understands that the anti-sat fat thesis is melting away like butter spread thinly on hot toast.