It’s taken the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) 393 days to review stakeholders’ submissions on the consultation on saturated fat and health. The result? A 443-page report that does not a jot to change current recommendations on saturated fats that have been in place since 1994. More than that, the report deliberately side steps the elephant in the room that continues to drive obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a big swathe of cancers — and that’s down to the nonsensical government guidance to make sure total fat intakes don’t exceed 35% of total energy intake.
Almost 3 decades on and the powers that be are still flying the saturated-fat-is-dangerous flag without any qualification of exactly what fatty acid profiles might be problematic. Or in what foods unhealthy or healthy saturated fats may be found. A new paper from Dr Arne Astrup, from the University of Copenhagen, published in the BMJ last month highlights this exact issue. Astrup cautions on the danger of treating saturated fat as a single group as there are different saturated fatty acids with different biological effects. More than that, it’s dependent on the food source as the fatty acids work in synergy within the matrix of nutrients. We agree with Astrup that it’s incompetent advice to talk about saturated fats in isolation and not about foods as a whole.
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Changing the guidelines on saturated fat intake would adversely hit Big Food’s bottom line as it would decimate the low-sat fat business and also mean a reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Carbs, especially when they are heavily refined, drive food addiction - and food addiction is good for business, whether you’re in food or Pharma.
We have to be realistic and in no doubt about the power of the corporatocracy in our world today. The only antidote to this failed governance and resulting top-down destructive consumerism is for us, as individuals, to take full responsibility for our own diet and lifestyle choices. Our health depends on it.
Results by design
We predicted this was likely to be a total stitch-up in our July article last year following our consultation submission. It seems we were right to peg this as a staged consultation with the intent to elicit zero change in dietary saturated fat guidelines.
Hence, you won’t be surprised to find that the key SACN recommendations from the 443-page report are as follows:
That, “The dietary reference value for saturated fats remains unchanged: that the population average contribution of saturated fatty acids to total dietary energy be reduced to no more than 10% (11% food and drink energy, excluding alcohol) for adults and children aged 5 years and older”
And that, “Saturated fats are substituted with unsaturated fats (PUFA or MUFA). More evidence is available supporting substitution with PUFA than substitution with MUFA.”
We were one of 14 organisations to take part in the consultation, where 6 commented similarly to ANH and opposed the SACN recommendations on sat fats. It will come as no surprise that all 8 pro-SACN submissions were from organisations that support mainstream, conventional dietetic guidelines. Whilst the Scottish Public Health Nutrition Group’s submission is blank, we have included them in the 8, given the recommendations on their website.
Table 1. List of organisations who submitted consultation responses, showing support for or opposition to SACN recommendations on saturated fats.
You can refer to our submission to see why we heavily criticised the archaic methodological approach being used by the SACN. This approach has been responsible for whittling down over 1000 pertinent studies to a mere 47. It’s a fine example of scientific cherry-picking - also known as bad science - to create the desired outcome.
Taking just one example, saturated fats and coronary heart disease (CHD), we excerpt from Zoe Harcombe’s detailed submission to illustrate the impact of the SACN’s scientific cherry-picking:
“The conclusions from paragraphs 8.40-8.45 inclusive have been reiterated in this document to show that NONE of: de Souza et al (20); Chowdhury et al (21); Siri-Tarino et al (22); Skeaff & Miller (23); Harcombe et al (1); Harcombe et al (17); OR Mente et al (24) found an association between saturated fat intake and CHD mortality or CHD outcomes. The conclusion of this section should have been a categorical statement “The Committee found adequate evidence of no effect.”
Instead, this paragraph reported one fixed effects test from just one of these studies (Chowdhury et al (21)) and ignored all other evidence: “The committee, on balance, therefore considered these data to be moderate evidence” for reduced saturated fat intake on CHD mortality and CHD events.
This paragraph is an extraordinary example of the confirmation bias of the SACN panel. An independent panel could not have concluded as this paragraph did from the conclusions presented in paragraphs 8.40-8.45 inclusive."
We also pointed out in our article last July a list of reasons why the SACN appeared to be deliberately asking the wrong questions to ensure a pre-planned outcome. Nothing’s changed a year later, except 6 detailed submissions pointing out the failures of the SACN report that seem to have been totally ignored.
As ever - the question of separating out healthy saturated fat profiles from foods like marbled meats taken from grass-fed animals, or whole milk or, better still, whole raw milk from sustainable or organic dairy farms, or even extra virgin coconut oil, have been totally avoided.
Why fat is seminal for good health
For the last two decades biomedical researchers have recognised the need for an evolutionary perspective in trying to understand the roots of human health and disease. This becomes even more important when assessing disorders that have a nutritional and metabolic core like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a number of cancers. Research into evolutionary biology demonstrates how our larger brain mass, compared to other primates, dictates increased energy requirements.
It also confirms that because of our need for an energy-rich diet, we’re able to readily metabolise high-fat foods. In fact, it shows that it’s natural for us to seek out fatty foods and have a strong preference for it. Big Food knows this only too well. The ‘bliss point’ created by the combination of fats and sugars (think of your reaction to the smell of warm doughnuts!) in processed foods speaks directly to our primordial, evolutionary demand for dense energy foods. Yet, on the one hand, companies are happy to profit from our manipulated food addiction, but on the other, have us believe that saturated fats are bad for health.
Nature may be complex, but it’s never foolish. And it’s not a coincidence that fat yields around 130 molecules of ATP (energy currency) for each molecule ‘burned’, with glucose the very poor relation, yielding around 34. That means we need to eat way more carbs to make enough energy for our needs, but only a small amount of fat. Back in the good/bad old days, saturated animal fats would have been one of our main sources, with long chain polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids from fish coming in a close second if we lived by water. There were far less plant-based omega 6 fats available other than some seeds in season.
We are essentially made to burn fat. It’s been the evolutionary survival mechanism that’s ensured the human race has made it this far. The confluence of post-war food manufacture, the change to drug-based medicine, the vilification of all things natural whilst worshipping at the altar of science, and the rise of the big corporates has played a starring role in destroying our health. But it’s nutritional and metabolic diseases that are wholly preventable if caught early, yet are still killing many of us or creating decades of ill health for others. Having a completely dormant fat burning capacity will create a total loss of metabolic resilience as a result.
There’s too much money at stake for the big corporates to let governments stand up and tell the truth. With what we know today about evolutionary biology and nutritional science, that’s tantamount to genocide and it’s criminal. More than that, no government, company or panel of scientists is going to be able to change the way our genes work. But you can change the way your genes express through changing your diet and in so doing, ignite a host of protective, evolutionary metabolic pathways.
Some healthy fats that deserve hero status in your diet:
The MUFAs (monounsaturated fats):
Peanut oil (if not allergic)
Sesame oil (sparingly)
Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans) (if not allergic)
Nut butters (if not allergic)
The PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats):
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
The SAFAs (saturated fats):
High-fat cuts of marbled meat (beef, lamb, pork) - with the fat inside the meat, not all around the outside
Chicken with the skin on
Whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream) - if you’re not intolerant
Fats and You
If you’re keen to take things into your own hands and become more of a fat afficionado, here’s a list of further reading and viewing. You can see we’re pretty passionate about the subject having witnessed members of the ANH team transform some complex health challenges through changing to a keto-adapted (mainly fat-burning) diet.
Like so many others around the globe, we’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of igniting evolutionary metabolic pathways through walking the fat-burning talk. For some in the team it’s been over 8 years now of robust, resilient health. In our book that speaks louder than any government panel’s report with questionable science and potential conflicts of interest with industry!