Date Published: 1 August 2019

Reducing saturated fat lowers blood cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)

A recent report entitled "Saturated fats and health"1 published in July 2019 by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has concluded that there is no need to change current advice that saturated fats should not form more than about 10% of dietary energy.

The SACN 2 advises Public Health England (a UK government agency) 3, and other UK government organisations about nutrition and related health matters. The report describes a thorough review of data published since the previous review of the scientific evidence on this subject by the UK's Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA), which was undertaken in 1994.

Based on 47 systematic reviews and meta-analyses, The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) concluded that 4:

  • higher saturated fat consumption is linked to raised blood cholesterol
  • higher intakes of saturated fat are associated with increased risk of heart disease
  • saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated fats
  • there is no need to change current advice that saturated fat should not exceed around 10% of food energy

Prof. Paul Haggarty, Chair of the Saturated Fats and Health Working Group of SACN, said4 :

" Looking at the evidence, our report confirms that reducing saturated fat lowers total blood cholesterol and cuts the risk of heart disease."

Prof. Louis Levy, Head of Nutrition Science at Public Health England (PHE), said4 :

" SACN's review supports and strengthens current advice. We recommend eating foods high in saturated fat less often and in smaller amounts and swapping to unsaturated fats to help achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
_ We all need to take action, but food manufacturers, suppliers and caterers have a particular responsibility in helping people to do this
."

What does this mean for consumers ?

Information in this report indicates that the main sources of saturated fats in UK diets have not changed much in 30 years. Cereals and cereal products such as biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies, milk and milk products (mainly cheese and milk), and meat and meat products remain the main sources of dietary intake of saturated fat. Although the overall intake of saturated fats seems to have fallen over this time, it is still above the recommended upper limit of 10% of dietary energy, at around 12% of dietary energy. The UK recommendations are consistent with international guidelines including those in the USA and Australia and by the World Health Organisation and European Food Standards Agency.

Publication of this report and publicity about it is an opportunity to highlight opportunities to reduce blood cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by making simple dietary changes. Examples of suggested changes to reduce saturated fat in ordinary diets include4 :

  • cooking with oils instead of butter
  • using a lower fat spread instead of butter
  • choosing lean meat or oily fish instead of red or fatty meat
  • switching to semi skimmed milk instead of full fat
  • using yogurt instead of cream
  • having a piece of fruit as a snack instead of cake or biscuits
  • replace some meat in meals with beans or pulses

Some of these suggestions are not necessary, or even possible, for people whose diets are already vegetarian or vegan.

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