Diets low on saturated fats do not curb heart disease, says US heart expert

The bad reputation for saturated fats was created in 1952 on the back of a study that examined evidence from six countries

Diets low on saturated fats do not curb heart disease, or help people to live longer, according to a leading US heart expert, who argues that foods such as butter, cream and cheese have been “demonised” since the 1950s.

The declaration is made by Dr James DiNicolantonio in the medical journal, Open Heart , following a review of dozens of peer-examined investigations, including one that probed 21 studies that examined nearly 350,000 people worldwide.

Changes to dietary guidelines, which urge people to replace foods rich in saturated fats with those rich in carbohydrates, or omega 6-rich polyunsaturated fats, should be “strongly considered” urgently, he insisted.

The bad reputation for saturated fats was created in 1952 on the back of a study that examined evidence from six countries, though Dr DiNicolantonio argued that the author ignored contradictory evidence from 16 other countries.

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US president
However, the label stuck, particularly on the back of a heart attack suffered by the then US president, Dwight Eisenhower, who was then just in his 50s, which was blamed by popular lore on his rich diet.

A recent study warned that replacing saturated fats and trans fatty acids with omega 6 fatty acids, without a corresponding rise in omega 3 fatty acids, appears to increase the risk of death from coronary heart and cardiovascular diseases.

“We need a public health campaign as strong as the one we had in the 70s and 80s demonising saturated fats, to say that we got it wrong,” he said.

Dr DiNicolantonio's warning was criticised last night. Prof Bruce Griffin, professor of nutritional metabolism at the Uuniversity of Surrey said "no definitive evidence to support a causal relationship between diet and disease exists."

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times