Dairy bosses welcome new sat fat study

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Saturated fats in dairy products like cheese have long been demonised
Saturated fats in dairy products like cheese have long been demonised

Related tags: Nutrition, Saturated fat, Butter

Dairy bosses have welcomed a new study that suggests saturated fats in foods like butter and cheese are not bad for heart health.

There was no evidence to suggest that swapping foods containing saturated fats – such as dairy products – for foods with unsaturated fats – like those found in margarine and sunflower oils – lowered the risk of developing heart disease, the study said.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine​ and analysed 72 separate studies of more than 600,000 participants.

Total saturated fat was not associated with coronary disease risk in the 72 studies and intake of unsaturated fats did not offer any heart protection, researchers concluded.

Criticise the government’s guidelines

Dairy UK chief executive Dr Judith Bryans used the study to criticise current government guidelines on saturated fats. The guidelines failed to take into account the diversity of saturated fatty acids and their impact when combined with other nutrients, like calcium in dairy, she said.

“We’ve known for years that saturated fats consumed on their own have a significantly different impact than saturated fats present in nutrient-rich foods. Focusing on non-nutrient rich foods would be a much more useful approach and I hope that the Department of Health will take note of the results and recommendations of this analysis to review their current guidelines,” ​said Bryans. 

Lead researcher on the study, Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, said the results could potentially develop new lines of enquiry into the effect of saturated fats on heart health and encourage “careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines”.

New lines of enquiry

Current government guidelines for the healthy consumption of saturated fats are based on recommendations made by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy in 1984. They recommend men consume no more than 30g a day and women no more than 20g a day.

The Provision Trade Federation’s director general Clare Cheney said it was impractical to base health guidance on a study that was 30 years old.

“The government should be basing its health policy on updated studies like this one. Many of us in the industry have asked for a long time whether or not there was sufficient evidence between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease to justify the demonising of foods like cheese,” ​said Cheney.

However, Professor Jeremy Pearson, BHF associate medical director, said a large scale clinical study was needed before a conclusive judgement was made.

Results from the study were not an excuse to eat lots of cheese, pies and cakes, he said.

Related topics: Dairy, Fats & oils

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2 comments

Saturated Facts

Posted by chris aylmer,

I think meat and eggs are demonized unfairly for being very high in saturated fats, whether or not this would be bad for the heart. We like things in black and white, not shades of gray.
In fact most meat products, whether processed or fresh, are only around 5-10% fat by weight and actually contain slightly more monounsaturated fats than saturated fats(USDA database), with the total proportion of saturated fats around 40%. Eggs contain even less saturated fat at 35%, with 40% monounsaturated and 25% polyunsaturated. Butter and cheese do contain around 65% of their fat in saturated form, but portion sizes are relatively small, unless pizzas and other cheese dishes are eaten regularly for main meals. I'd be more concerned with the amount of salt added to the cheese during processing, but that is another matter.
Let's get it in proportion and in the shades of gray it belongs.

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Saturated fat

Posted by Clare Cheney,

This text is slightly misleading because it makes it look as though I was querying the COMA recommendations for saturated fat consumption levels, when my issue is actually whether there is sufficient evidence of a link between saturated fat in the diet and coronary heart disease. I don't disagree that the level of fat in the diet needs to be controlled to avoid obesity, but people should not be made to feel guilty about eating saturated fat in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. Recent Department of Health initiatives have been aimed at specific foods rather than educating people on how to construct healthy diets of which dairy and meat products form a normal, nutritious and enjoyable part as quite rightly depicted in DH's own Eatwell plate.

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