Fatty foods may not be that bad for you after all

Is red meat really that bad for us?

Eilish O'Regan

GUIDELINES urging us to cut down on eating fatty foods in order to stave off heart disease lack "any solid trial evidence" to back them up, a major analysis reveals today.

Advice on fat consumption - adopted in Ireland and other countries to fight our biggest killer between 1977 and 1983 - "should not have been introduced," according to research led by the University of West of Scotland and published in the online journal Open Heart.

The original advice told us to reduce overall dietary fat consumption from butter, red meat and cakes to 30pc of total energy intake, and specifically, saturated fat to 10pc.

Researchers have now reviewed data available at the time and found six trials involving 2,647 men looking at links between dietary fat, serum cholesterol, and the development of heart disease.

The researchers highlight several caveats in the evidence available at the time: no women were included; no trial tested the dietary recommendations; no trial concluded that dietary guidelines should be drawn up.

"It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men," say the researchers.

"Dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced."

Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Department of Health in Dublin said it was currently reviewing the Healthy Eating Guidelines.

"All research, current thinking and practice - including this research - will be considered in relation to cardiovascular health and obesity.

"At the same time, the department would like to remind [people] to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and to try to stick to the food pyramid."

Sinead Shanley, dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation, said: "The evidence from epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies is consistent - the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced when saturated fatty acids are replaced with polyunsaturated fatty acids."

She added: "Fat is ideally 30pc of your total energy intake. However, we know across the Irish population we exceed this amount and therefore we would again advise on reducing overall fat intake."

Cardiovascular disease claims around 10,000 lives here annually and half of these deaths are from heart attack.