For as long as I can remember, the advice everyone would receive regarding fat was simple – avoid it. Saturated fat was seen as a thing of evil and it was frowned upon to eat cheese, drink full fat milk or put butter on your toast. Over the last few months, there have been some subtle shifts in perspective as new research has forced a changing attitude to fat. So it is now the case that fat doesn’t actually make you fat?
According to the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, the focus on low fat diets, cutting out fat and the resulting eating patterns have actually has ‘disastrous health consequences’ for many people.
These two bodies have published a report that called for a major overhaul of dietary guidelines and have even accused health officials of ‘colluding’ with the food industry. The fact that the recent Eatwell Guide produced by Public Health England was made with a big input from the food and drink industry is one example of the collusion they believe is taking place.
In their report, the two bodies advocate a return to whole foods such as meat, fish and dairy as well as adding in foods that have a high amount of fat such as avocadoes. Their findings are simple – the fat in food does not make you fat.
Further to this, saturated fats are now not necessarily the cause of heart disease and full fat dairy foods including yoghurt, cheese and milk can actually help the heart, rather than having a negative effect on it.
In fact, in their opinion, the problem comes from low fat diets as well as snacks between meals that are labelled as low fat, low cholesterol or ‘lite’ and these could be behind the growing obesity crisis and its associated health problems.
Their advice is that people should stop counting calories and watch their sugar intake instead while those suffering from Type 2 diabetes should concentrate on a fat-rich diet and cut back on carbohydrates.
Chairman of the National Obesity Forum, Professor David Haslam, is one to say that he quickly realised the high carbohydrate, low fat diet was flawed advice. And he points to the high levels of obesity around the UK as evidence of this, despite the efforts of consecutive governments and their scientists.
Likewise, Dr Aseem Malhotra, founding member of the Public Health Collaboration and a cardiologist says that guidelines that promoted low fat foods could be the ‘biggest mistake in modern medical history’ and could have devastating consequences for the health of the general public.
Nor are experts here in the UK the only ones to change their opinion on the whole fat issue. Every five years, the US Department of Health and Human Services issue a series of guidelines on how Americans should eat to be healthy. Their 2016 issue included a complete change on cholesterol, now saying there is no need to limit the amount eaten, which was previously recommended to be limited to 300mg per day. Of course, too much is still a risk to health so sensible eating is always recommended.
Advice such as limited the number of eggs eaten due to the amount of cholesterol they contain is another piece of advice that looks to be flawed. Because eggs contain a lot of cholesterol, it was assumed that they caused a build-up in the arteries and resulting health problems. But it seems that no-one checked to see if people who ate more eggs actually had more heart attacks.
Of course, not everyone is in on the idea of fat not being the enemy. The Royal College of Physicians special adviser, Professor John Wass, said that there was ‘good evidence’ that saturated fats did in fact increase cholesterol and that a balanced diet with regular activity and a healthy weight was what was needed. The British Heart Foundation also said that the report did not have ‘robust and comprehensive review of evidence’ to allow it to be taken seriously.
So perhaps time will tell whether the advice about fats is going to change or those who have set what may be damaging advice are going to refuse to change their viewpoints if evidence points in that direction.