New SAFA recommendations open to debate

Posted on: July 01, 2014

On June 29, experts in the field of fat and health concluded that when aiming to reduce saturated fat in the diet, attention needs to be given to what the saturated fat is replaced with to ensure positive effects on health. And although metabolic differences exist, dietary recommendation on specific saturated fatty acids (SAFA) should be supported with sound scientific knowledge on their effects on health, and applicability in food based dietary guidelines.

At the prestigious ISSFAL conference at Stockholm, the IEM (International Expert Movement) organised a debate amongst experts to assess whether it is time for governments to adopt a change in dietary recommendations on saturated fatty acids (SAFA). Almost 170 experts in the field of fatty acids, metabolism and health were present to discuss whether or not it is time to change current dietary recommendations on SAFA.

Prof Ronald Mensink (Maastricht University) and Prof Legrand (France) opened the debate and made reference to the current epidemiological science on SAFA and the different metabolic effects of the specific saturated fatty acids. It was added that in food all fatty acids normally occur as a mix.

Prof Legrand stressed that in fact all nutrients are healthy, but guidance is needed for obtaining an optimal balance. He explained that the French recommendations on specific SAFA are based on proven physiological differences of the specific saturated fatty acids.

Prof Ronald Mensink replied that although there is a clear difference in physiological effects, the end effect of the specific fatty acids on health is not clear.Dietary recommendations should be made on solid grounds with the intention to prevent disease and local differences in SAFA recommendations may add to confusion.

It was agreed that attention needs to be given to what the saturated fat is replaced with, e.g. the type and quantity of carbohydrates or unsaturated fatty acids. Outcome of research on the effect of replacement of SAFA on public health will help re-assess recommendations on SAFA in general. Care should be taken not to forget our target group and any nutrient recommendation should consider its feasibility and practical translation in food based dietary guidelines.