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Saturated fat not linked to heart disease? Not so fast, the real message behind the headlines

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Many of you would have come across today's 'hot topic' in the media citing a just published meta-analysis showing little link between saturated fat and heart disease.

I really feel for the public in being faced with such conflicting nutrition messages. I could blame no one for throwing their hands up in despair, proclaiming that all nutrition health messages are rubbish as they reach for the salami stick and deep fried Mars Bar.

But hold on for just one moment before you take that first bite. Saturated fat was never, repeat never, proclaimed as the big villain for heart disease. It was one of a whole range of diet and lifestyle habits including smoking, obesity, inactivity, and a poor diet overall, that together add to a person’s risk.

Dietary advice to reduce heart disease risk was never just about cutting back on saturated fat, it was cutting back on saturated fat as WELL AS eating less processed foods, salt, and sugar, and eating more fruit and vegetables. As a population, Australians have made little shift in making these type of inherently healthy eating changes permanent.

You can eat a diet high in saturated fat that is healthy, or you could eat less saturated fat and replace it with processed carbohydrates and sugar. These types of changes can’t always be seen in many of the studies that went into this latest research.

Dietary patterns consistently linked to lower rates of heart disease as well as longer-term health and longevity are almost universally low in saturated fat, yet also high in plant based foods, and fibre, and low in salt and sugar.

The nutrition profession as a whole (which includes me) is guilty of focussing too much on single nutrients as being health saviours or villains. But we don’t eat nutrients, we eat foods.

The positive news out of this latest conflicting research is that it sees more and more nutrition researchers are waking up to the risk of only focussing on nutrients, and instead look at whole diets.

Our latest Dietary Guidelines in fact have been framed much more in terms of foods, and less focus is given to nutrients.

Get the foods right, and the nutrients take care of themselves.

 

Tim


Confused about the mixed soup of nutrition messages being stirred through the media? Tim maintains an active nutrition blog at www.thinkingnutrition.com.au where you'll find the latest nutrition research and controversies discussed in straight forward language, distilling out what you need to know for your better health.

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