Sweden: focus more on overall diet instead of individual saturated fatty acids

Posted on: March 24, 2015

There is no evidence that exchanging palm oil for other fats or oils with high proportions of saturated fatty acids and with similar technical and sensory characteristics as palm oil would provide a substantial beneficial effect on Swedish public health. Instead of focusing on the intake of palmitic acid or other individual saturated fatty acids, there should be a focus on ensuring the quality of the overall diet. This was the conclusion of a review by the Swedish Nutrition Foundation (SNF), presented by Ulrika Gunnerud at a seminar on palm oil organised by the Swedish Food Federation in Stockholm on 5 February 2015.

Health issue?
In Sweden the most common sources of palm oil are buttery spreads (soft margarine spreads), margarine, cookies, cakes, wheat bread and pastries. Although the use of palm oil is widespread, the use is questioned from a health perspective because of palm oil’s high content of saturated fat, especially the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid. According to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012 (NNR 2012), which the Swedish dietary recommendations are based upon,  the intake of saturated fat should not exceed 10 percent of our daily energy intake.

Palmitic intake
According to the Swedish dietary survey Riksmaten 2010–2011, Swedes eat five grams of palmitic acid from vegetable sources per day. According to Matkorgen 2010 (a study on the content of nutrients and undesirable substances in the average Swede’s food basket), the intake of palmitic acid from vegetable sources is eight grams per day. Palmitic acid from vegetable sources includes palmitic acid from palm oil but also from other plant-based sources, such as cocoa butter and soybean oil. There is no exact data on the intake of palmitic acid from palm oil specifically (five grams of palmitic acid is equivalent to 12 grams of palm oil).

Saturated fat
In accordance with NNR 2012, intake of saturated fatty acids should be limited in favour of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Based on a scientific review paper published in 2014 which found that replacing palm oil for fats containing either other saturated fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids resulted in both favourable and unfavourable effects on the blood lipids. The effects depend on the replacement fat and how much and how often the food in question is consumed.

The SNF concludes that exchanging palm oil for other fats with similar or higher proportions of saturated fatty acids would not provide a substantial beneficial effect on Swedish public health. Instead of focusing on the intake of palmitic acid or other individual saturated fatty acids, there should be a focus on ensuring the quality of the overall diet.

Click here for the full report (in Swedish) and here for the abstract in English.

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