It's time to stop demonising saturated fats and focus on healthy eating and exercise to prevent heart disease, experts says
The Heart Foundation has rejected claims by three international cardiologists that saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
Cardiologists Pascal Meier from the University College London, Rita Redberg at the University of California, San Francisco and Aseem Malhotra from the NHS's Lister Hospital in Stevenage say the widely held belief that eating saturated fat clogs the arteries was "plain wrong".
Their analysis of a related body of research found no association between saturated fat consumption and coronary heart disease.
"Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food," they wrote in an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Food, nutrition and health is a complex area and there is no single cause of chronic diseases, NSW Heart Foundation health director Julie Anne Mitchell said.
But the "scientific consensus" was that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, in particular polyunsaturated fat, reduced the risk of heart disease, she told AAP.
Peter Clifton, professor of nutrition at the University of South Australia, agreed.
Lowering saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and had been shown to reduce heart events, he said.
"Saturated fat also enhances insulin resistance and inflammation so replacing it with unsaturated fat has other benefits than just lowering LDL cholesterol."
The cardiologists have been cautioned by other specialists.
"Summarising evidence using meta-analyses or systematic reviews can be helpful, but meta-analyses should be conducted with caution and interpreted in light of the totality of the evidence," Ms Mitchell said.
However, not all experts are critical of the editorial, including Dr Yutang Wang, a senior lecturer at the School of Applied and Biomedical Sciences at Federation University Australia.
Dr Wang says the idea that saturated fat increases cardiovascular disease is a "misconception".
"Depriving saturated fat from our diet, unsurprisingly, has been shown to increase mortality risk," he said.
"Therefore, to improve our health, we need to stop unfruitful attempts to reduce saturated fat intake; rather, we should focus on some more useful, enjoyable and much cheaper ways to do it," said Dr Wang.
These better choices include eating a healthy diet and exercise - "two powerful" interventions, says Dr Jacqueline Phillips, professor of neuroscience at Macquarie University.
The Mediterranean diet - high in good fat such as those found in nuts, olive oil and fish - has been proven to have significant health benefits.
"The benefit is derived not from lowering of bad cholesterol (LDL) but fixing the balance of 'good' cholesterol (HDL) to overall (or total) cholesterol in the blood," said Dr Phillips.
The Heart Foundation encourages Australians to eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups and keepi physically active to improve heart health.
"A healthy diet is more than just the type of fat chosen," Ms Mitchell said.