Telling people not to eat saturated fat could deny them vital nutrients and do more harm than good, experts have warned.
University of Copenhagen scientists have highlighted the benefits of foods containing saturated fat in providing vital compounds such as vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre, iron and zinc.
Previously, saturated fat has been demonised for links with increased heart disease risk, but these links have been debunked in recent years.
The UK dietary guidelines currently advise cutting down on all fats and replacing saturated fat, including animal meat and dairy products, with unsaturated fat. Foods containing a rich source of unsaturated fat, such as nuts, olives, avocados, salmon and tuna, contain a significant amount of saturated fat as well.
A team of researchers from across the world has questioned the recommendation to cut down on saturated fat. They say this has led to people turning to starch and sugar instead through “scientific and policy missteps”.
Led by Dr Arne Astrup, from the University of Copenhagen, his team said that certain foods that contain saturated fat might actually lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes as well as non-communicable diseases including cancer.
The researchers said: “We’re concerned that, based on several decades of experience, a focus on total saturated fat might have the unintended consequence of misleading governments, consumers, and industry towards promoting foods low in saturated fat but rich in refined starch and sugar.”
New World Health Organization guidelines, currently in draft form, suggest people’s saturated fat intake should form less than 10%. But the researchers say this focus on reducing saturated fats has resulted in more trans fat foods being consumed. These are processed items including fried foods. They were banned by Denmark in 2004, and the EU is also due to outlaw them.
Commenting on the research, Professor Judith Buttriss, from the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “This highlights the complexity of providing dietary recommendations based on nutrients as we never eat nutrients alone but foods that are a complex mixture of different components.”
The findings have been published in The BMJ.