Experts question sat fat cuts after government update

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Tackling saturated fat content in food may not be the best way to reduce heart disease risk, say experts
Tackling saturated fat content in food may not be the best way to reduce heart disease risk, say experts
Government efforts to urge food manufacturers to slash saturated fat in products could be “barking up the wrong tree”, according to industry experts.

Speaking after the government’s publication of industry progress in the field on Saturday (October 26), oils and fats consultant Geoff Talbot told “There are so many conflicting bits of research on this that you don’t really know where you are.”

He said research into the area suggested evidence was divided over whether some level of saturated fats in foods was good or bad for health.

“One work has indicated consumption increased bad (LDL) cholesterol in the bloodstream and good cholesterol as well, suggesting it’s not 100% bad for you.”

Fats have always been an essential component of many foods, such as biscuits, confectionery and cakes, helping them to bind together and providing textural properties as well as flavour, said Talbot.

In addition, he said what had never been clear for food manufacturers was what they could replace saturated fats with in foods. “What is clear is that if you take saturated fats out and replace them with carbs, that’s a really bad move.”

Pilloried for health reasons

Trans fats had been conclusively pilloried for health reasons and even the health benefits of polyunsaturates had been questioned, he said. That left monounsaturated fats, which were not suitable as ingredients for all products.

Many dairy products, for example, naturally contain saturated fat and would not exist in their present form if they were removed.

Oils often contained a mixture of fats, which made their reduction or removal questionable, Talbot said. For example, palm oil had recently been attacked on health grounds, but contained a mixture of monounsaturated, or ‘good’ fats and saturated fats.

He also mentioned an article published in the British Medical Journal last week, challenging the premise that reducing saturated fat would significantly reduce heart disease risk.

The article, Saturated fat is not the major issue’ ​, penned by Dr Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar, Croydon University Hospital, London, argued removing sat fats might contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The reduction in LDL cholesterol from reducing saturated fat intake seems to be specific to large, buoyant (type A) LDL particles, when in fact it is the small, dense (type B) particles (responsive to carbohydrate intake) that are implicated in cardiovascular disease,”​ writes Malhotra.

“Indeed, recent prospective cohort studies have not supported any significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk.”

‘Obesity levels are going up’

Talbot said making fat reduction a priority for health clearly wasn’t delivering expected benefits: “Fat levels ​[in foods] are coming down, but obesity levels are going up and diabetes levels are going up.”

Malhotra suggested one reason for this is that taking fat out of foods makes them taste worse, so the food industry replaced them with added sugar.

Excess sugar consumption is now believed by many to be an independent risk factor in the development of metabolic syndrome, he said.

Two thirds of people admitted to hospital for heart attacks had metabolic syndrome, yet 75% of those had normal total cholesterol concentrations, suggesting cholesterol was not the issue.

Talbot said: “If what he has said is correct, there is a danger the Department of Health is barking up the wrong tree.”

'May not be right way to go'

Clare Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, which represents staple products such as bacon, cheese and butter, said: “Recent research from scientists is saying the idea of cutting down on saturated fats may not be the right way to go.

“The government has put so much effort into this policy that if they have got it wrong then it’s going to make the problem they are trying to address even worse.”

For more on Cheney’s view of Malhotra’s article, read her comment in the November issue of Food Manufacture​, which lands on desks next week.

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Learn lessons from the past!

Posted by Verner Wheelock,

Here is my reponse to Dr Malhotra's article which has just been published in the British Medical Journal to-day.

"According to the National Food Survey the intake of saturated fat has fallen from 56.7 g/day in 1969 to 29.2 g/day in 2000(1).
In 1984 the official Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) recommended that the saturated fat intake should be reduced from 20% of food energy to 15% as part of a strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease (2). This target was reached by 2000(3). Currently the amount of saturated fat in the British diet is 12.7% of energy. Over this period the incidence of obesity has continued to increase. In men it has doubled since 1993, which is when detailed information was first collected (4). Even more worrying is that since 1994 the incidence of diabetes has more than doubled for both men and women (5).
The government Responsibility Deal with the food industry aims to reduce the saturated fat level even more to 11% of energy in the hope and expectation that there will be a reduction in 'the risk of premature avoidable mortality from cardiovascular and coronary heart disease' (6).
As it is evident that reducing saturated fat in the past has not delivered the expected results, is it really credible that the same strategy will work in the future?
What seems to have been ignored totally by those who advocate a reduction in saturated fat is that many of the individual saturated fats are actually important nutrients, which play a vital role in the normal functioning of the body and are present in human milk.
2. Department of Health and Social Security (1984) “Diet and Cardiovascular Disease” London: HMSO
4. Health Survey of England 2010 Adult Trend Tables
5. Health Survey for England 2009

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saturated fats bad?

Posted by Gabrie Lansbergen,

Indeed there is no scientific consensus that all saturated fatty acids are equally bad. It is difficult to test.
But there is consensus on the statement that unsaturated fatty acids are better than saturated ones.
In a lot of food applications fat or margarine is a functional ingredient. Difficult to be replaced by carbohydrates or liquid oil.
But there is still an opportunity to lower the saturated fatty acid level and increase the unsaturated level, keeping the functionality. Application of effective hardstocks in combination with liquid oils is the solution. But then fully hardening/hydrogenation should be allowed.
fatsforfoods consultant

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Sat Fats and Health Issues

Posted by Gordon Kirkwood,

The issue is not at all clear cut.
The major influence on heart disease is not sat fats but TFAs (Trans Fats) from partial hydrogenation.
All dairy fats, butter, cream, milk, cheese contain both Sat Fats and partially hydrogenated fats, hence TFAs.
There is no difference between partially hydrogenated fats produced in a cows' stomach or a hydrogenation plant.
The major question should be not just what you eat (and enjoy) but what you burn off.
A sedentary life style is the major cause of obesity and heart disease.
No amount of reduction in sat fats will accommodate for poor lifestyle choices.

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