NHMRC accused of being ‘illogical’ in exclusion of polyunsaturated fats from food chart

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th August 2012

Australian dietitians and cardio-nutritionists are calling on the National Health and Medical Research Council to include polyunsaturated fats as a necessary new food group.

Some nutritional experts have said that polyunsaturated fats are ‘good fats,’ because they make the membranes in the heart more fluid, which can lower the risk of heart disease, as well as making the body more insulin-sensitive, reducing the chance of developing diabetes.

Professor Peter Clifton, one of Australia’s leading experts in cardiac nutrition, wants the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to be more proactive in promoting the importance of polyunsaturated fats.

Speaking recently with Australian Food News, Professor Clifton said that “replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat lowers the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This has been shown in observational studies as well as interventions so the evidence is quite strong.”

The current NHMRC draft of the 2012 Australian Guide to Healthy Eating mentions only the five food groups, adding in dietary guideline 2, that Australians should “limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats” and “include small amounts of foods that contain unsaturated fats”.

However Professor Clifton told Australian Food News that this recommendation was hidden within technical messages at the back of the guidelines while the picture on the front page does not even place good fats on the food plate.

“In order to achieve an intake that will have an effect on disease risk, daily consumption of polyunsaturated fat as liquid cooking oils, dressings and margarines is required, so it needs to be on the daily plate rather than on the side as an occasional use only,” Professor Clifton said.

Professor Clifton told Australian Food News that “the NHMRC required daily consumption of these fats in their dietary calculations, so to leave it off the daily plate is illogical.”

The identified health benefits of different oils or fats are not totally settled upon by all the experts.

For example, recently Australian Food News reported Spanish research finding on olive oil that the beneficial effects of olive oil to the heart may not have been proven.

Another recent Australian Food News report on coconut suggested that lauric acid, which is a saturated fat, may be converted into a less harmful unsaturated fat through the human liver.