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'It's confusing for people': Irish Heart says saturated fats link to heart disease still valid

Ireland’s heart health organisation has said people shouldn’t change their diet based on the editorial in the British Medical Journal.

Image: Shutterstock/Lazarenko Svetlana

IRISH HEART HAS said it’s “disappointing” to see the British Medical Journal published an editorial saying there’s no link between saturated fat and health issues like coronary heart disease and type two diabetes.

Earlier this week, the editorial entitled ‘Saturated fat does not clog the arteries‘ said that the treatment of coronary artery disease “urgently requires a paradigm shift”.

“Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”

But Irish Heart (previously called the Irish Heart Foundation) said that the editorial is an opinion based on selective research, and goes against years of substantial studies that say the opposite.

“We wouldn’t agree with it, and we won’t be changing our advice to people,” said Janis Morrissey, registered dietician and health promotion manager at the Irish Heart.

“It’s disappointing, and confusing for people. There’s been conflicting headlines on this over the years, and it does cast doubt for people on what they should do.

If you don’t have a scientific background, you don’t know what’s true and what’s not. But our vested interest is the public and heart health, we’ve no vested interest in profit.

Food with saturated fats include food from animal sources, and dairy products including cheese, cream and butter.

Morrissey told TheJournal.ie that “of course” the role of physical activity and nutrition should be acknowledged, but it’s confusing for the general public to give equal voice to this theory, which she says doesn’t have new evidence to back it up.

The link between foods high in saturated fats and heart-related diseases has been well-established over the years, she said, but that saturated fats would be fine as part of an overall lifestyle and balanced diet.

Although it’s common to have an editorial in a science journal, Morrissey said that this particular article’s references were selective. She added that it was good to have a debate, but that it was important to look at where information was coming from.

Heart disease is the biggest cause of death in Ireland. Morrissey says that 80% of diseases are preventable through living a healthy lifestyle – if you get the advice on what ‘healthy’ is from the right place.

There’s a huge amount you can do to reduce your risk: be more active, stop smoking, and decreasing your alcohol intake, go a huge way of reducing [your risk].

This is part of a broader discussion on misinformation about health issues, which includes a recently given legal distinction between dietitians and nutritionists.

Since last year, dietitians are legally registered and protected titles, while anyone can claim to be a nutritionist.

Read: Belief that saturated fat clogs arteries is ‘just plain wrong’

Read: One ‘diet drink’ a day could increase risk of dementia and strokes – seven-year study

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