Chemist Direct recommends revising food guidelines as study reviews show no link found between saturated fat and heart disease

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Chemist Direct calls into question current food guidelines that focus mainly on saturated versus unsaturated fat amounts, and its effect on cardiovascular health, when no direct link between the two proves increased health risks.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats

The leading cause of death in the world today is through cardiovascular disease, with 7.3 million facing coronary heart failure and 6.2 million experiencing strokes.

The leading cause of death in the world today is through cardiovascular disease, with 7.3 million facing coronary heart failure and 6.2 million experiencing strokes. This number is expected to increase each year from the current 17.3 million to a whopping 23.3 million in the next 15 years. Many of these deaths can be avoided through lifestyle changes such as quitting tobacco use, eating balanced meals and having regular exercise which would help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and other markers that increase the risk factor of heart diseases. To help prevent these figures from increasing the NHS placed dietary guidelines that minimize the use of saturated fats and recommended polyunsaturated as a healthier option.

But new evidence presented by researchers at Cambridge University this year have found that giving up fatty meat, cream or butter is unlikely to improve health. The team, whose results appear in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine , conducted a "meta-analysis" of data from 72 studies involving more than 600,000 participants from 18 countries. A key finding was that total saturated fat, whether measured in the diet or the bloodstream, showed no association with heart disease. In addition, levels of "healthy" polyunsaturated fats such as omega 3 and omega 6 had no general effect on heart disease risk.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation - which co-funded the study, said: "This analysis of existing data suggests there isn't enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. But large scale clinical studies are needed, as these researchers recommend, before making a conclusive judgment. Alongside taking any necessary medication, the best way to stay heart healthy is to stop smoking, stay active, and ensure our whole diet is healthy - and this means considering not only the fats in our diet but also our intake of salt, sugar and fruit and vegetables."

Lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, from Cambridge University, said: "These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines." NHS guidelines suggest the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day and women no more than 20g. Saturated fat is traditionally found in butter, cheese, fatty meat, biscuits, cakes and sausages. But recent studies have shown that diets which are low in saturated fat do not lower cholesterol or prevent heart disease.

However health experts have expressed caution at the findings. Prof Tom Sanders of King's College London said: "It really is time that we moved away from focusing on individual components of diet like saturated fat, salt and sugar and moved into better describing diets that we know are associated with a lower risk of heart disease such a Mediterranean dietary pattern or a vegetarian dietary pattern."

The Scientifiarbohydrates and a consultation on new guidelines will begin this summer.

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Maria Camanes Fores
Chemist Direct
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