“Eating fat does not make you fat,” argues a new report by the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and the Public Health Collaboration, as they demanded a major overhaul of official dietary guidelines.
The report says the low-fat and low-cholesterol message, which has been official policy in the UK since 1983, was based on “flawed science” and had resulted in an increased consumption of junk food and carbohydrates.
The document also accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, said the misplaced focus meant Britain was failing to address an obesity crisis which is costing the NHS £6 billion a year.
The authors call for a return to “whole foods” such as meat, fish and dairy, as well as high-fat healthy foods like avocados.
The report, which has provoked a broad backlash among the scientific community, also argues that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while full fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, can actually protect the heart.
Professor David Haslam, NOF chairman, said: “As a clinician treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high suggesting high carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, where deeply flawed.
“Current efforts have failed, the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.”
Processed foods labelled “low-fat”, “lite”, “low cholesterol” should be avoided at all costs and people with Type 2 diabetes should eat a fat-rich diet rather than one based on carbohydrates, the report urges.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and member of the Public Health Collaboration, a group of medics, said dietary guidelines promoting low-fat foods “is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health”.
“Sadly this unhelpful advice continues to be perpetuated,” he said.
Calorie counting is also a damaging red herring when it comes to controlling obesity, said the NOF report, as calories from different foods have “entirely different metabolic effects on the human body, rendering that definition useless”.
Similarly, “you cannot outrun a bad diet” the authors state, citing the “incorrect” assumption among the public that the solution to obesity is to burn more calories than are consumed.
Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the NOF findings were “full of ideas and opinion” but could not be counted as a comprehensive review of the evidence.
“This country’s obesity epidemic is not caused by poor dietary guidelines; it is that we are not meeting them,” he said.
Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Glasgow University, said: “The report’s main headline – simply to eat more fat – is highly contentious and could have adverse public health consequences.”
Meanwhile, Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England, defended the body’s latest advice.
“The refresh of the Eatwell model was conducted openly using robust scientific approaches,” she said.
“Advice was generated from an external reference group engaging interested stakeholders, including health voluntary and industry representatives to ensure a wide range of views were considered.”