Fat findings: 40-year-old study questions theories of meat, dairy heart health risks
- Long-lost data from a more than 40-year-old study published in BMJ has again thrown into question commonly-held theories about vegetable fats being preferable over animal fats. The data also questions whether consumption of saturated fats increases risk of heart disease.
- The new researchers studying these results, from NIH and University of North Carolina, believe this data's absence may have contributed to a misunderstanding about human dietary health and the presumed health risks of products from the meat and dairy industries.
- However, the new data itself isn't entirely reliable. The study followed only older men and women who had been admitted to nursing homes or mental health hospitals because they were sick, which makes it difficult to extrapolate these results to a wider population set. Also, only a quarter of the 9,423 participants adhered to the diet for more than a year, and short-term dietary changes don't necessarily impact long-term health risks.
Red meat has been linked to heart disease and even cancer by health organizations. And last year, meat producers were concerned that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines would contain recommendations to eat less red meat. In the end, those recommendations weren't included.
On another side of the debate, this type of research could impact producers of vegetable oils and products that use them. Manufacturers may return to the drawing board to find different fats to use (as they've been doing for trans fats), though this could impact the texture and flavor of well-known products.
The fact remains, though, that studies revolving around saturated fat (among other contested nutrients and ingredients) support both sides of the debate. Manufacturers do keep these studies in mind, as their results become the widespread news that can impact consumer preferences and health concerns.
But it's not necessary for manufacturers to immediately rush to R&D to reformulate products with each passing study. The better strategy is to monitor consumers' reactions and purchasing behaviors over the long term. Case in point: consumers say they want less sugar, but still buy more.