Experts call for dropping of total fat intake limits

25 Jun

Ahead of the publication of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, researchers have called for the US government to drop recommended restrictions on total fat consumption.

Two fish on a plate with assorted vegetables.
The researchers state that healthful fats such as those found in nuts, vegetable oils and fish can protect against illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

The paper, published in JAMA is written by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian from the Friedman School of Nutritional Science & Policy at Tufts University and Dr. David Ludwig from the Boston Children’s Hospital.

In the paper, the researchers discuss one of the new recommendations made by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee (GDAC), an independent group of scientists tasked with reviewing existing scientific and medical research on nutrition.

A lot of recent debate has centered around the GDAC’s recommendations that a diet higher in plant-based foods is better for the environment than one based more on meat and that taxing sugary snacks and drinks could improve diets. In their paper, however, the researchers focus on a recommendation that may be receiving less attention.

For the first time since 1980, the technical report of the GDAC did not include a recommendation for the restriction of total fat consumption.

“We wanted the emphasis to be on fat quality rather than total fat, because the evidence really emphasizes that saturated fat is the driver of risk rather than total fat intake,” says Barbara Millen, chair of the DGAC.

Dr. Mozaffarian supports this, stating that placing limits on total fat intake has no basis and leads to poor decisions from both industry and consumers:

“Modern evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish have protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease. Other fat-rich foods, like whole milk and cheese, appear pretty neutral; while many low-fat foods, like low-fat deli meats, fat-free salad dressing, and baked potato chips, are no better and often even worse than full-fat alternatives. It’s the food that matters, not its fat content.”

When the dietary guidelines began to recommend low-fat diets, the consumption of low-fat and non-fat products increased. These foods often contain refined grains and added sugars that are associated with increased metabolic dysfunction and obesity.

“Lifting the restriction on total fat would clear the way for restaurants and industry to reformulate products containing more healthful fats and fewer refined grains and added sugars,” says Dr. Ludwig.

2015 Dietary Guidelines For Americans: ‘a critical opportunity’

Alongside dropping restrictions on total fat consumption from the dietary guidelines, Dr. Mozaffarian and Dr. Ludwig call for the limit on fat intake to be lifted by numerous government agencies and food programs.

One such program is the National School Lunch program that recently banned whole milk from its menus while retaining sugar-sweetened non-fat milk. Other targets include the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who regulate food package labeling and issue diet advice to families and children respectively.

“From agriculture to food producers to school cafeterias to restaurants, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans serve as a beacon for countless dietary choices in the public and private sector,” states Dr. Mozaffarian. “With obesity and chronic disease impacting public health so deeply, we can’t miss this critical opportunity to improve the food supply.”

Not everyone agrees with this viewpoint, however. Lisa Moskovitz, a registered dietitian, told Yahoo Health removing restrictions on total fat consumption might not automatically lead consumers to follow balanced, healthy diets.

“If there are no guidelines on how much fat they should be eating, there is a chance that they will eat more fat and, as a result, consume less high-fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates and muscle-preserving lean proteins,” she warns.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will refer to the DGAC report when drawing up the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are due to be published toward the end of the year.

“The USDA and HHS must use the 2015 guidelines to send the message that limiting total fat provides no benefits and actually leads to confusion and bad dietary choices,” Dr. Mozaffarian concludes.

A research letter published in JAMA recently revealed that more than two-thirds of Americans are estimated to be either overweight or obese.

Written by James McIntosh