World health agency requests public input on fat

The World Health Organization makes recommendations on ways 
to reduce consumption of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids

The World Health Organization is seeking public comment until June 1 on its recommendations to reduce consumption of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids.

The recommendations are meant to help children and adults reduce fat levels in their diets to curb heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of non-communicable disease deaths, out of about 55 million deaths in 2016, said Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika, chair of the WHO nutrition guidance expert advisory group.

“Many of those deaths were premature under the age of 70 and occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular diseases are largely preventable by adopting a healthy diet, being physical active and eliminating tobacco and harmful use of alcohol,” he said during a news conference May 4.

“Generally, healthy diets are based on plant foods, low in high refined carbohydrates, low in sugars and salt, high in fruits and vegetables and fats mainly from plant-based sources,” he said.

Saturated fatty acids are found in foods like butter, milk, meat, salmon and egg yolks, as well as some plant-derived products, such as chocolate and cocoa butter, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

Trans-fatty acids are produced by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable and fish oils but can also occur naturally in meat and dairy products, as well as processed foods.

Unsaturated fat is found in high amounts in nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetable oils such as sunflower, soy and olive oil as well as vegetable-oil-based soft spreads. Omega-3 and -6 are unsaturated fats.

There is no difference between a trans-fat from an animal and those that occur in industrial-produced products.

“The effects on the cardiovascular risk factor is the same. In terms of the availability of this type of fatty acid in food, the majority is provided by partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. With average diets, the consumption of trans-fat that comes from ruminants is below one percent,” Kumanyika said.

Canadian livestock groups are likely to contribute comments.

“Public consultation both at home and around the world is an important part of formulating guidelines and benchmarks that inform policies and recommendations when it comes to our diet. We look to contribute to these discussions by drawing on a range of evidence-based research studies and a network of subject-matter experts linked to the nutritional benefits of eggs,” said an email from Kim Kesseler, nutrition manager at Egg Farmers of Canada.

Red meat is often targeted as a source of fat in the diet, although studies show Canadians eat an average of 288 grams of red meat per week, said Joyce Parslow of Canada Beef.

Studies from Heart and Stroke Canada report 48 percent of calories are derived from ultra-processed foods and the percentage is even higher among children.

“We are working on a position that beef belongs. It is arguably one of the most nutrient dense protein foods out there with very modest calorie intakes,” she said.

More than half of the fat in beef that is unsaturated is oleic acid, the same type of healthy fat found in olive oil.

Early studies found an association between heart disease and saturated fat. However, more recent studies have found no such connection.

Canada Beef is working with the Canadian Meat Council to examine how much saturated fat is coming from fresh and processed red meat, she said.

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition followed 500,000 people for 12 years and found no association between eating red meat and a higher risk of cancer or heart disease.

The BOLD study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demonstrated that heart healthy diets, which included lean beef were as effective as the DASH diet for cholesterol management. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension emphasizes portion control and eating a variety or foods with the right amount of nutrients.

Calorie requirements

An active adult needs about 2,500 calories per day. Ten percent of that energy, or 250 calories, could come from saturated fat. This is the equivalent of 30 grams of saturated fat and could be found in:

  • 50 grams of butter
  • 130 grams of cheese with 30 percent fat
  • One litre of whole milk
  • 50 grams of palm oil

WHO recommendations

Draft guidelines on saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acid intake for adults and children (between the ages of two and 19):

  • In adults and children, WHO suggests reducing the intake of saturated fatty acids to less than 10 percent of total energy intake.
  • WHO suggests using polyunsaturated fatty acids as a source of replacement energy, if needed, when reducing saturated fats.
  • In adults and children whose saturated fatty acid intake is less than 10 percent of total energy intake, WHO suggests no increase in saturated fatty acid intake.

Trans-fatty acids recommendations

  • In adults and children whose trans-fatty acid intake is greater than one percent of total energy intake, WHO strongly recommends reducing trans-fatty acid intake.
  • In adults and children, WHO suggests reducing the intake of trans-fatty acids to less than one percent of total energy intake.
  • WHO suggests using polyunsaturated fatty acids as a replacement for trans-fatty acids.
  • In adults and children whose trans-fatty acid intake is less than one percent of total energy intake, WHO suggests no increase in trans-fatty acid intake.

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