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In recent years, there has been much debate about whether the government are providing the correct advice for saturated fats in the diet. We have seen many claims that saturated fats may in fact be good for us, with recent headlines causing confusion including:

“Is butter back and is sat fat good?”
“‘Saturated fat good for you’, expert claims”
“Saturated fat link with heart disease questioned”

So we are very pleased to have the much-anticipated Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) draft review into saturated fat published this week.

SACN’s draft recommendations are:

  • The population average contribution of saturated fat to total calorie intake should be no more than 10%. This means no more than 30g of saturated fat for men, no more than 20g for women and less for children.
  • Dietary saturated fats should be substituted with unsaturated fats. Foods like fish (especially oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and trout), unsalted nuts, seeds and avocado are sources of unsaturated fat.

The rationale behind this is the wealth of evidence linking saturated fats to an increased risk of high blood cholesterol, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

SACN advise that reducing saturated fats can help improve blood lipids and also blood glucose control. There is also no evidence that reducing intake of saturated fat increases risk of any of the outcomes considered: cardiovascular disease, blood lipids, blood pressure, diabetes, dementia and some cancers.

This new review from SACN helps support advice that we should not be promoting regular use of coconut oil (another trend of recent years: see our coconut oil blog). Indeed, coconut oil is made up of around 85% saturated fats, with 1 tablespoon providing a hefty 12g of saturated fat.

How does this compare to previous guidance?
The previous review was undertaken by SACN’s predecessor Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy in 1994 and concluded that saturated fat intake should be no more than 10% of total calories for adults and children aged five and older.

SACN have come to the conclusion that the new evidence supports and strengths the above original recommendation and hence there are no changes to the current government advice.

How much saturated fat do we eat in the UK?
In the UK, average saturated fat intakes are at around 12% of calories. There are improvements to be made to meet the 10% target.

Most of our intake comes from milk products (such as whole milk and cheese), cereal products and meat products.

What are the best saturated fat substitutes?
The review considers what we substitute saturated fat with and the effects on our health. It concludes that the best is to replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

This fully supports recent consensus on saturated fat reductions from the World Health Organisation 2016 meta-analysis focusing on impact on serum lipids, and the 2015 Cochrane review by Hooper focusing on cardiovascular disease outcomes. Both come to more or less the same conclusions. (If you’re interested in the basic chemistry of fats, do read the WHO analysis, it’s particularly interesting!)

When discussing substitution of saturated with carbohydrates, they highlighted that there is ‘adequate’ evidence that when saturated fats are replaced with carbohydrates alone, this is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

However, SACN states there was a lack of good quality evidence that differentiated between types of carbohydrates and their resulting effects on heart disease. Different carbohydrates can have different effects on the body (for example, due to varying fibre content). Further research that differentiates between the types of carbohydrates is clearly needed.

Takeaway message
In a nutshell, the draft guidelines support current advice that we need to reduce saturated fat intake and replace it with unsaturated fats.

For more information on how to lower your saturated fats intake, see Heart UK’s website.

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