Get rid of nutrients and focus on foods in guidelines, says sat fat researcher

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

Science should look beyond LDL cholesterol and saturated fat, which have dominated cardiovascular research until now, towards other contributing factors and a food-group approach to guidelines, according to one researcher.

Dr Benoit Lamarche, a dairy researcher from the Laval University in Quebec, said more data on other factors like oxidation and inflammation and how these might interact with food intakes - not just nutrient intakes - was needed.

“We have to expand our perspective on what food does what in terms of risk factors so that we don’t always focus on LDL [cholesterol].”

In his talk at the12th​ Euro Fed Lipid Congress in Montpellier Lamarche stressed that we eat foods not nutrients, and guidelines should reflect this. “Ideally I think we would just need to get rid of nutrients and focus on foods.”

Red light for nutrient targets?

Asked what he thought of the UK’s voluntary ‘traffic light’ labelling scheme, which ranks sugar, salt and fat content and calories as red, amber or green alongside EU-mandated reference intakes (RIs), he said there was a “general consensus”​ that we need to move away from nutrients towards food-driven guidelines.

“This is the case in North America – you see that foods have a more prominent place in the guidelines, which I think is great.”

However he said confusion lay when food guidelines included nutrient targets too. “We talk about different food but then: ‘Oops don’t forget about saturated fat, or any other kind of nutrients.’ And this is not entirely consistent with the food approach.”

“We as a community need to make sure that the guidelines are clear, not confusing, and that they are scientific based also. We assume they are but if you look at the saturated fats issue it has been challenged.”

The courage to change direction

Lamarche said it would take courage to find and admit that perhaps researchers and policy makers had not been taking the best route on saturated fats and other intake guidelines.

“It’s a big step to challenge these ideas because it implies you were wrong to start with. And for scientists that’s hard to do. But we need to be responsible and look at the data.”

“We tend to be comfortable and we don’t want to shake the temple too much.”

He said it may be the case that the a re-evaluation of data would reveal that current dietary references were the best possible option, but added researchers should go in with an open mind. 

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