Experts caution on dietary advice purporting to show fat is good

October 31, 2013

The international media response to a BMJ opinion piece claiming to debunk the "myth" of saturated fat as a cause of coronary heart disease could undermine public confidence in lifestyle changes that have resulted in appreciable health benefits, say a group of experts in public health and nutrition representing a number of New Zealand health-related organisations.

They have also expressed concern regarding recent promotion in New Zealand of exceptionally low carbohydrate/high diets aimed at weight loss and reduced risk of some .

The group's spokesman, University of Otago Professor in Human Nutrition Jim Mann, says avoiding and treating obesity is central to advice about food and physical activity for people of all ages aimed at reducing chronic diseases, including several of the most commonly occurring cancers in New Zealand; type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

WHO has commissioned studies, also published in the BMJ, that have confirmed the importance of total fat reduction (typically also involving a reduction in ) as well as the reduction of sugars in helping to reduce overweight and obesity. "There is no evidence that this is achieved in the long term by very low carbohydrate- high fat diets," says Professor Mann.

In a reduction in saturated fats has occurred in parallel with a reduction in blood and coronary heart disease.

Professor Mann adds that although heart disease has many causes, in western countries coronary heart disease risk is directly related to cholesterol levels.

"In New Zealand the reduction in fat consumption from more than 40% towards 30% (and saturated fat towards 10%) since the 1970's has been associated with a reduction in coronary death rates by more than two thirds," he says.

"In parts of Sweden the trend towards reducing cholesterol levels has been reversed in association with the promotion and adoption of high fat diets."

Most people tend to think of what they eat in terms of foods rather than nutrients and the expert group supports the concept that different dietary patterns are compatible with calorie balance, a healthy body weight and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and several cancers.

However, the group suggests that those who advocate for radical new dietary approaches have a responsibility to provide convincing peer-reviewed evidence of long term benefit as well as absence of harm. Such evidence does not exist for diets high in saturated and total fat, and very low in carbohydrate.

Explore further: Revisiting the association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease

More information:

Related Stories

Heart fat predicts risk of death in kidney disease patients

September 17, 2013

International cardiac research led by a University of Alberta medical scientist shows fat deposits around the heart—which can be spotted through simple CT scans—can help predict the risk of death in patients with chronic ...

Research proves low fat diet is key to a slimmer figure

December 6, 2012

Findings published today in the British Medical Journal show that exchanging fatty foods for lower fat alternatives will help people shift around three-and-a-half pounds - without dieting. People taking part in trials also ...

'Bad' dieting increases cardiovascular disease risk

June 11, 2012

A 25 year study in Northern Sweden, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Nutrition Journal, is the first to show that a regional and national dietary intervention to reduce fat intake, decreased cholesterol levels, ...

Recommended for you

The social costs of smell loss in older women

March 22, 2017

A new study of older U.S. adults conducted by researchers from the Monell Center and collaborating institutions reports that a woman's social life is associated with how well her sense of smell functions. The study found ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.