“In the case of the people vs saturated fat, we find Saturated Fat NOT guilty.” Read the full story below.

A few weeks ago you may have seen this article in the Herald Sun.

Vicky Herald Sun: Fear of Fat so unhealhty

Yip that’s me and yes once again I am creating controversy! This time related to fat and more specifically saturated fat. For those of you who know a little bit about my professional journey as a dietitian, you will know that this is an area that I am particularly passionate about. It only takes a little bit of digging to discover that our ‘fear of fat’ and in particular our fear of saturated fat has been founded, to put it bluntly, on some very dodgy research. It is now widely known (although still very much ignored) that back in the day, researcher Ancel Keys, very strategically ‘cherry-picked’ information to support his theory that there was a link between consumption of saturated fat and heart disease. Just recently (12 April 2016) an article titled “Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73)” was published in the British Medical Journal. And the conclusion… “Available evidence from randomized controlled trials show that replacement of saturated fat in the diet with linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fats i.e. the ones the heart foundation gives the tick to including margarine, sunflower oil, canola oil and the likes) effectively lowers serum cholesterol BUT does NOT support the hypothesis that this translates to a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease or all causes”.

Translation… Saturated fat is NOT the bad guy here! And just to be clear, saturated fat includes the following:

  • Animal fats including the fat on meat/chicken, dairy fat, butter and coconut oil – yes, I’m serious, you CAN eat this stuff and be extremely healthy too!

In response to this report and a number of other scientific articles related to fat the media began to release a number of articles so that the public could be made aware of all of this. The telegraph in the UK said ‘Eat fat to get thin – 30 years of flawed dietary advice is disastrous’ and another said ‘Report attacks official guidance on low fat diets… eat more fat’

As you might imagine, when you have based 50 years worth of dietary guidelines on flawed research it can be very difficult to admit that you were wrong. The Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA), who I have written about before and have a fairly strong opinion of (please click here to read about this in detail) naturally felt they need to respond to these reports. I am no longer surprised by their responses to these sorts of matters but I am saddened, as it is the Australian population, in particular our kids, who will suffer the burden of these incorrect recommendations.

Here is part of what the DAA had to say (I have selected only a few paragraphs from their full report) and then below is my response:

Misleading media reports on high fat, low carbohydrate diet for Australians” Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA)

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is disappointed with recent media reports, including a piece on Channel 7 News (23 May 2016) titled ‘Fatty foods don’t make you fat, but sugar is off the menu: Dieticians (sic)’.

Check the qualifications of anyone providing nutrition advice

DAA recommends checking the nutrition qualifications of anyone providing dietary advice. As with any field, it’s important that advice is provided by those qualified to do so, working within their scope of practice.

Regarding fat and carbohydrates, the nutrition science tells us:

  • A diet high in saturated fat is a risk factor for heart disease, one of our nation’s biggest killers. Saturated fats tend to increase LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol in the blood and current evidence suggests these should be eaten sparingly to minimize the risk of heart disease. Instead, foods that are rich in unsaturated fats (such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) are recommended.

My response to DAA’s statement:

In this report DAA mentions ‘evidence-based’ guidelines on numerous occasions. The evidence that DAA has chosen to look at is biased and/or cherry-picked and needs to be investigated further. In particular I refer to the following statement in their report: “A diet high in saturated fat is a risk factor for heart disease”. Indeed three recent large scale meta-analyses looking into the relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease (1. Skeaff & Miller, Ann Nutr Metab. 2009.; 2. Jakobsen, et al Am J Clin Nutr. 2009.; 3. Siri-Tarino et al, Am J Clin Nutr, 2010) all concluded that there exists NO association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease or stroke. In addition a large scale meta-analysis conducted by Harcombe et al. and published in BMJ, 2015 concluded “Dietary recommendations were introduced for 220 million US and 56 million UK citizens by 1993, in the absence of supporting evidence from randomised controlled trials” (Just for the record Australian’s follow these guidelines too)

DAA goes on to encourage the Australian population to ‘check the qualifications of anyone providing nutrition advice’. As a fully qualified dietitian (Bachelor of Science; Master of Nutrition and Dietetics; Post-graduate in Sports Nutrition) I would agree with this statement. However as a fully qualified dietitian I have chosen NOT to associate myself with the DAA and thereby relinquish my APD (Accredited Practising Dietitian) status, as I will not associated myself with an organisation that is 1. Partnered with a number of conflicting industry bodies and 2. Continues to fail the Australian population by not examining ALL the evidence and making appropriate amendments to recommendations.

You do not need to be a medical professional or a scientist to recognise that the health of our nation is on a dangerous downward spiral. We can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing for the past 50 years or we can admit that we were wrong and make some changes now, before it is too late. I am the first to admit that it is not as simple as just ‘eating more fat’ but this is definitely a good way to get the conversation started. I urge you to stop following blindly, become more informed, make better choices about what you put into your body each and every day. I assure you that if you do you will most certainly reap the rewards.


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