Saturated Fats are Not Harmful

Yesterday’s dogma
What does this new science mean for our diets, and why does it matter?

First, it matters for public health. Many millions of people have been eating the wrong foods as a result of the previous erroneous advice. Low-fat foods – often full of sugar or trans fats – have proliferated and were promoted as healthy. This, now, must be recognised as a mistake.

Similarly, foods with higher saturated fats content – butter and palm oil, among others – have been unfairly criticised. This, too, must be recognised as a mistake: we should not be avoiding or denigrating these foods.

Second, it matters in making public health policy. In Italy, palm oil (with a content of 50% saturated fats) has been subject to a sustained negative public relations campaign and is accused of being ‘unhealthy’. Well-known MPs and Senators have pressured companies to withdraw the product (some have caved in to this pressure), and Parliamentarians have even suggested taxes or bans.

Saturated Fats are Not Harmful

The claim was always known in the scientific community to be untrue and baseless scaremongering. That fact has now been confirmed by the BJSM research, by scientists affiliated to one of the world’s most prestigious academic journals. Policy makers now have a responsibility to accept, and reflect, the new science. We should now see the end of attacks on saturated fats and palm oil: these are not justified by any evidence.

The media, too, bears a responsibility. Much of public opinion on nutrition is conditioned by what people read in the media. No journalist can be expected to be an expert in multiple fields of science – but when in doubt, trust the experts. They have spoken clearly – the latest BJSM research is just one of many studies stating that past claims – that saturated fats are harmful – were simply wrong.

In the era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, scientists have a more important role than ever before. New scientific findings have the ability to transform our lives – in this case, perhaps even to lengthen our lives through better nutrition. Similarly, old or disproved ideas have the ability to harm us, if they are spread by those with ulterior motives.

Policy makers, nutritionists and the media, take note: saturated fats must be demonised no longer. It is science that must drive this public health debate – not populists shouting loudly or lurid headlines. We cannot afford to cling to yesterday’s dogma.

Manuela Mapelli
Biologist & Nutritionist, Italy



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