LETTER: Chewing the fat — but what exactly are the facts?
Andrea Burgener is entitled to her opinion but science should not be labeled ‘bollocks’
Nutrition advice is characterised by “plumes of poppycock”, says Andrea Burgener (Undoing the fat fairy-tales, September 18), then she jumps right in and generates more than a few plumes of her own.
Opinion is all very well, but it should be clearly labeled as such when science is being called “absolute bollocks” in a reputable newspaper and on its website. I had to resort to Google to establish Burgener’s credentials: she is a writer and co-owner of a trendy deli in Melville, Johannesburg, called The Leopard.
Of qualifications for her scathing rejection of the well-established link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease, I could find none. I suggest Burgener take the time to read a comprehensive narrative review of all the evidence around dietary fat and cardio-metabolic health published last year by four world authorities on the subject, headed by Prof Nita G Forouhi of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge.
The paper takes a critical look at the evolution of scientific understanding around dietary fats and health since the diet-heart hypothesis was first mooted in the 1950s. Then it acknowledges that establishing public health dietary guidelines is not easy, before summing up the current best advice regarding dietary fat consumption. That should be thorough enough even for the demanding Ms Burgener. But in case she hasn’t time for detail — and so that Business Day can provide some balance for its readers — these are the key takeaways according to Forouhi:
- For cardiovascular health, substantial evidence supports the importance of the type of fat consumed, not total fat intake, and the elimination of industrially produced trans-fats. [NB: Burgener did not even mention trans-fats in her piece.)
- Much of the evidence suggests that the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (including plant oils), but not when carbohydrate is the replacement nutrient.
- Controversies remain about the long-term heath effect of specific plant oils and of high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets and research is needed to resolve these.
- The focus of dietary advice must be on the consumption of foods and overall dietary patters, not on single nutrients.
Finally, Burgener directs readers to various sources of support for her views. Her top recommendation is Malcolm Kendrick, a British GP and member of the International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics (THINCS). He wrote a book called The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth About What Really Causes Heart Disease and How to Avoid It, which contains the following prime example of absolute bollocks: “I don’t happen to think that saturated fats are in any way damaging or dangerous. If they were, they wouldn’t taste so damn delicious. Nature tends to warn us off dangerous foods by making them taste bitter and icky.”
I rest my case.