The Big Fat Mistake: There Was Little Evidence To Support Fat Restrictions



In 1977 the United States government and in 1983 the United Kingdom government recommended that people significantly reduce their overall fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol consumption to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Since then, low-carbohydrate diets have remained controversial, in large part because they often increase fat intake.

Studies since that time have found no clear association between dietary saturated fat, cholesterol, and the risk of cardiovascular disease, at least for the majority of people.

Zoë Harcombe, MA, of the University of the West of Scotland, along with collaborators in Wales and the United States, recently decided to analyze studies focusing on dietary fat and coronary heart disease published before 1983. It turns out that the scientific evidence at the time did not support a reduction in dietary fat or cholesterol.

Harcombe and her colleagues found only six dietary randomized clinical trials, involving 2,467 men, that focused on dietary fat and coronary heart disease. In those studies, which lasted for an average of 5.4 years, 370 people died of any cause. Of those, 207 had died in the low-fat groups and 216 had died in the control groups from coronary heart disease.

“There were no differences in all-course mortality and nonsignificant differences in coronary heart disease mortality, resulting from the dietary interventions,” Harcombe concluded.

They added, “No randomized controlled trial had tested government dietary fat recommendations before their introduction. Recommendations were made for 276 million people following...studies of 2,467 males...”

Editor’s note: The dietary recommendations for eating low-fat foods resulted in an increased intake of refined carbohydrates (including sugars) and trans fats. Since then, the incidence of obesity, prediabetes, and type-2 diabetes has skyrocketed, largely a consequence of these dietary changes.


[1]Harcombe Z, Baker JS, Cooper SM, et al. Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guideliness in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart, 2015; 2:e000196.