Researchers claim that the dietary advice around eating saturated fat in our diets could be a huge mistake

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Image: Were fat guidelines based on undercooked science?

Cambridge burnt cream (aka crème brûlée) – back on the menu?

New research suggests that dietary advice issued by health officials in 1983 warning Brits to avoid eating fatty foods such as butter, cream and full-fat milk should not have been introduced. Intrigued? Read on.


The article, published in the BMJ’s Open Heart journal, argues the guidelines, which are still in use today, are based on “very limited evidence”.


The researchers point out that the original trials – which set out to determine the relationship between fat and coronary heart disease – focused on "unhealthy men" and excluded women. They say this means the dietary recommendations were introduced without supporting evidence.


The report authors, led by University of the West of Scotland researcher Zoë Harcombe, warn that by dubbing saturated fat as the “main dietary villain” public health officials have subsequently neglected other risks, especially carbohydrates. Consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra has suggested that cutting out refined carbs, such as sugar and white bread, is actually better for your weight and heart health. 


The paper, which reviewed the data available at the time the guidelines were put in place, says: “It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men."


The present review concludes that dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced.”


However, dieticians have warned that the risks associated with saturated fats should not be underestimated and that people should continue to try to reduce the amount of saturated fat they consume.


Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Understanding the true relationship between diet and our health is not simple. Unlike drug trials, studies on diet and disease are difficult to conduct. It would be all but impossible to carry out a research trial where you controlled the diets of thousands of people over many years.


“That’s why guidance in the UK is based on a consensus of the evidence available not just on randomised controlled trials.


“We continue to recommend switching saturated fat for unsaturated fat. This is consistent with a Mediterranean-style diet, which is associated with a lower rate of coronary heart disease, and research that has demonstrated a link between increased consumption of saturated fat and raised cholesterol levels.


“As well as the fats we eat, we also need to pay attention to our diet as a whole and the balance of foods within in.”