Yesterday’s row between nutrition experts over a report criticising dietary fat guidelines (it argued that dietary fat advice given to the nation was based on flimsy evidence and should not have been introduced) has thrown some timely nutrition arguments into the public arena. Should we continue advising the public to cut fat and are our dietary guidelines still fit for purpose?
The truth is, those 1983 dietary guidelines (which are still current) were based on the best evidence available – not just the 6 trials the report authors used, and prevailing wisdom suggested that overeating fat and saturated fat upped one’s risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Since then, a raft of studies have backed this up. A few haven’t. Indeed, it’s become quite trendy in the nutrition world to leap onto the saturated-fat-is-good-therefore-eat-more-bacon-and-butter (or whatever high fat food you thought was bad before) bandwagon. Yes, it’s an appealing message (eat more fatty foods!) but is this high-fat message really the right public health message?
Not in my opinion. The truth is we need to exercise caution before changing national dietary guidelines and putting the nation on a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet (which is what the report authors want, one of whom makes her living writing LCHF diet books anyway!). While we have some evidence that low-carb diets may produce short term weight loss success for some people and help some type 2 diabetics manage their condition, there’s little evidence they are sustainable or ‘work’ in the longer term. Nor is there convincing evidence that such diets produce better health outcomes (e.g. lower death, cancer, heart disease or stroke risk). When it comes to staying trim, studies suggest that the diet that works best for people is the one that you can stick to, low carb or not. What’s more, not everyone needs to lose weight or manage type 2 diabetes; many simply want to avoid weight (fat) gain, stay healthy or even gain (muscle) weight.
If you look at the diets of the world’s healthiest populations (the ‘blue zones’), you’ll find several things they have in common: they eat a mostly plant-based diet (fruit, veg and grains), they eat very few processed foods and they don’t overeat. In other words, they don’t eat a LCHF diet. A blue zones-style may be a step too far for most people in the UK so, in the meantime, a traditional Med-style diet that emphasises fruit, veg, fish, grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil seems a sensible alternative. It’s health benefits are supported by a wealth of scientific evidence, it’s a relatively easy message to convey to the public and one that’s appealing and – best of all – its do-able!
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