Cutting back on butter, cream and fatty meats may have done more harm to heart health than good.
Experts say the belief that high-fat diets are bad for arteries is based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies and has led to millions being ‘over-medicated’ with statin drugs.
Doctors insist it is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease.
Some western nations, such as Sweden, are now adopting dietary guidelines that encourage foods high in fat but low in carbs.
Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra says almost four decades of advice to cut back on saturated fats found in cream, butter and less lean meat has ‘paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks’.
He leads a debate online in the British Medical Journal website bmj.com that challenges the demonisation of saturated fat.
A landmark study in the 1970s concluded there was a link between heart disease and blood cholesterol, which correlated with the calories provided by saturated fat.
‘But correlation is not causation,’ said Dr Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London.
Nevertheless, people were advised to reduce fat intake to 30 per cent of total energy and a fall in saturated fat intake to 10 per cent.
Recent studies fail to show a link between saturated fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease, with saturated fat actually found to be protective, he said.
One of the earliest obesity experiments, published in the Lancet in 1956, comparing groups on diets of 90 per cent fat versus 90 per cent protein versus 90 per cent carbohydrate revealed the greatest weight loss was among those eating the most fat.
Professor David Haslam, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The assumption has been made that increased fat in the bloodstream is caused by increased saturated fat in the diet … modern scientific evidence is proving that refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular are actually the culprits.’