New advice that eating more fat could be the answer to the nation’s obesity crisis has caused a furious backlash from senior UK nutritionists.
The report by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration said the focus on low-fat diets was failing to address the UK’s obesity crisis. It said that people should be eating “whole foods”, such as meat, fish and dairy, and refuted the suggestion that saturated fat was harmful.
It advocated that people should adopt a fat-rich diet that was low in carbohydrates and, ideally, devoid of sugar. It added that processed foods, labelled low fat, lite, low cholesterol or proven to lower cholesterol, should be avoided and said that counting calories was a waste of time, as the idea that exercise could help you “outrun a bad diet” was a myth.
The report argued that consumer advice on food had been corrupted by commercial interest, driving people away from “highly nourishing, wholesome and health-promoting foods”. Similar to when the tobacco industry tried to suppress the link between smoking and lung cancer, the report said the influence of the food industry on advice represented a “significant threat to public health”.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a senior adviser to the National Obesity Forum, said: “The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.
“We must urgently change the message to the public, to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes. Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat, fat is your friend.”
However, senior food experts have hit back, questioning the report’s methodology and refuting claims of bias.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, criticised the methodology of the report, saying the official UK guidance on fat was the product of thousands of studies while the report made use of just 43 studies.
She said: “In the face of all the evidence, calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible.
“It’s a risk to the nation’s health when potentially influential voices suggest people should eat a high-fat diet, especially saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet increases the risk of raised cholesterol, a route to heart disease and possible death.”
Professor Simon Capewell, from the Faculty of Public Health, also came out in defence of Public Health England’s current advice, with the Eatwell Plate recommending a diet mostly comprised of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables.
He said: “We fully support Public Health England’s new guidance on a healthy diet. Their advice reflects evidence-based science that we can all trust. It was not influenced by industry.
“By contrast, the report from the National Obesity Forum is not peer-reviewed. Furthermore, it does not it indicate who wrote it or how it was funded. That is worrying.”