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UK's National Obesity Forum slams 'disastrous' low-fat diet advice

UK's National Obesity Forum slams 'disastrous' low-fat diet advice


Public Health England responds by calling the report 'irresponsible'

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The UK's National Obesity Forum (NOF) has come out with a scathing report this week that condemns the common advice handed down from authorities to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. It argues that "eating fat does not make you fat" and joins a growing wave of backlash against the established dietary wisdom of the past four decades — which was initiated by the US Dietary Goals that began in 1977 and concurring UK guidelines in 1983. In response, Public Health England, the body responsible for issuing diet advice, has said that "calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible."

A year ago, the United States made its biggest shift in policy since the start of its national dietary guidelines by dropping the warning about cholesterol. As it turns out, the scientific underpinning for the advice to reduce dietary cholesterol intake was lacking, and so the policymakers just dropped it. Numerous studies plus a growing number of academics have also suggested that diets low in carbohydrates and high in fat are more effective at controlling weight and may even be healthier for the heart. This is the position endorsed by the NOF charity in its present critique, which has been reported by The Guardian.

"Eating fat does not make you fat"

The alternative proposed by the charity is for the consumption of "whole foods" that include meat, fish, dairy, nuts, and everyone's favorite high-fat fruit, the avocado. In that respect, they agree with the general UK advice to consume more unprocessed, well-sourced foods, though the discord arises in the amount of carbohydrates that each advocates. The latest Eatwell Guide from Public Health England was updated in March of this year, and it advises that roughly 80 percent of the calories we consume should come from carbohydrates, through things like beans, breads, pasta, fruits, and vegetables.

The NOF alleges that the science of food has been "corrupted by commercial influences," noting that the Eatwell Guide was prepared with the involvement of a large number of people from the food and drink industries. The report has already been criticized for expressing more opinion than scientific facts and figures, however its core contention that current dietary advice is not functioning as intended is hard to argue with. If the goal of the high-carbohydrate diet advice is to keep people healthy, the rapid rise of obesity that's coincided with it — particularly in the United States and the UK, one of Europe's fattest nations — would suggest it's been counterproductive.

Update: For more context and critical analysis, here is a roundup of expert commentary and reaction the NOF's report.