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World Health Organisation’s recommendations on saturated fat are out of date, expert team says

ABC News

Article Summary

In a new study published in the British Medical Journal,1 18 well-known researchers have disputed the World Health Organisations dietary guideline to reduce saturated fat to less than 10% of daily calories, and have stated that this dietary guideline is not backed by evidence.

The authors summarised the key points of the paper as:

  • 2018 WHO draft guidelines on dietary saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids recommend reducing the total intake of saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids
  • The recommendations fail to take into account considerable evidence that the health effects of saturated fat vary depending on the specific fatty acid and on the specific food source
  • Maintaining general advice to reduce total saturated fatty acids will work against the intentions of the guidelines and weaken their effect on chronic disease incidence and mortality
  • A food-based translation of the recommendations for saturated fat intake would avoid unnecessary reduction or exclusion of foods that are key sources of important nutrients


The evidence ‘against’ saturated fat has been lacking for the entirety of the advisement against it. Of the systematic reviews and meta-analyses published, only the Hooper analysis showed detrimental effects from increasing saturated fats at the expense of other fats and even this finding has been disputed as the statistics used gave greater weight to smaller, more biased studies (as covered in a previous CARR). It is completely baffling that a dietary guideline based on such weak evidence (at best) continues to be one of the strongest positions held by the WHO and by various health organisations around the world, including that of the Australian and New Zealand Ministries of Health.

It is time for dietary guidelines to be based on properly and thoroughly evaluated evidence.


1.            Astrup A, Bertram HCS, Bonjour J-P, de Groot LCP, de Oliveira Otto MC, Feeney EL, et al. WHO draft guidelines on dietary saturated and trans fatty acids: time for a new approach? BMJ. 2019;366:l4137.

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