- 50-year review of evidence concluded eating unrestricted amounts of fat was healthier than any other type of diet – when done correctly
- Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, fruit, veg, beans, fish and whole grains
- The diet reduced the risk of breast cancer by 57%, major heart attack and strokes by 29%, and type 2 diabetes by 30%
Eating high-fat food can reduce the risk of breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease – as long as it is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet, experts claim.
A review of 50 years of evidence concluded that eating unrestricted amounts of fat was healthier than any other type of diet, when it is done in the right way.
Scientists last night claimed that the ballooning obesity crisis – which for decades has been blamed on people eating too much fat – may actually be due to diets packed with sugar and food containing refined grains, such as white bread and pasta.
The research team found that eating Mediterranean-style food rich in olive oil, with lots of fruit, vegetables, beans, cereals, fish and whole grains, led to lower risk of certain diseases than traditional Western diets packed with sugar and refined grains – even when they had much higher levels of fat.
Eating high-fat food can reduce the risk of breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease – as long as it is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet, experts claim. A review of 50 years of evidence concluded that eating unrestricted amounts of fat was healthier than any other type of diet, when it is done in the right way
Study leader Dr Hanna Bloomfield, of the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical centre, said: ‘What we found in our study is that healthy diets can include a lot of fat, especially if it’s healthy fat.’
Her paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, adds to growing evidence that the modern obsession with low-fat diets and calorie counting may not be the healthiest way to eat.
Government guidelines drawn up in 1983 advised Britons to cut their fat intake to 30 per cent of total energy, while increasing the amount of carbohydrate they ate.
Critics say that this guidance – which coincided with similar recommendations in the US – contributed to the boom in ‘diet’ food products, an obsession with calorie counting and a massive weight-loss industry.
Emerging evidence suggests that in reality not all types of fat are bad – and some fats can actually play a role in protecting the heart and reducing weight.
These ‘protective’ fats include those found in traditional Mediterranean diets, such as monounsaturated fat found in extra-virgin olive oil and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts.
Most Western diets, in comparison, are packed with saturated fats, such as those in butter and meat, and the unsaturated fat in vegetable oil.
Dr Bloomfield said: ‘The emphasis in the United States at least for the past 30 years has been it’s important to reduce fat, fat of all kind, fat’s the bad thing.
‘It turns out that the obesity epidemic in this country is probably more due to our increased consumption of refined grains and added sugar and not so much from our fat consumption.’
Her review, a ‘meta-study’ which analysed existing research on the subject, cited previous evidence which found that following a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of breast cancer by 57 per cent, major heart attack and strokes by 29 per cent, and Type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent.
There was no evidence, however, that following a Mediterranean diet reduced blood pressure, kidney disease, mortality or quality of life.
The new study found that following a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of breast cancer by 57 per cent, major heart attack and strokes by 29 per cent, and Type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent
Dr Bloomfield said: ‘I would define a Mediterranean diet as a plant-based diet that has an emphasis on high intake of monounsaturated fats, in particular olive oil. A high intake of legumes, fish, fruits and vegetables, and a low intake or a moderate intake of dairy and meat.
‘If you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, one of the important things you should do is include olive oil as your main cooking oil or salad oil and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables of different colours.
‘Avoid refined grain products and added sugar like pop and try to avoid a lot of meat and you can substitute fish instead of meat.’
London cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, who has long questioned the British focus on reducing fat and calories, said: ‘As my own analysis of the research shows not only does a high fat Mediterranean diet not make you fat but also is the best dietary pattern to improve health outcomes and reduce risk of disease.
‘It is high time we in the UK moved towards food based guidelines and lift restrictions on dietary fat from nutritious foods.’
But Dr Gunter Kuhnle, associate professor in nutrition at Reading University, questioned the strength of the new research, and said that any health benefit was probably due to increased vegetable intake and low meat consumption, rather than an increase in fat.
He said: ‘Despite the popular perception of the benefits of the Mediterranean diets, there is very limited evidence supporting this and most is based on observational studies.
‘Many of the observational studies do not provide enough detail on fat intake to investigate how it affects health.
‘The statement “a healthy diet can include a lot of fat” is therefore not really supported by the study.’
Dr Elizabeth Lund, former research leader at The Institute of Food Research, also questioned the findings, adding: ‘The definition of a Mediterranean diet used for the selected studies may not have specifically involved a low fat element but any effect of excess calories leading to people being overweight will have been factored out by the statistical analysis in individual studies.
‘Being overweight is a well-recognised risk factor for certain cancers such as colorectal cancer.’