Forty years of federal recommendations for daily fat intake could change this fall with the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Since the 1980’s, the guidelines have recommended restrictions on total fat consumption, due to scientific understanding at that time that linked saturated fats, like pizza and cheese, to heart disease.
In the last decade the recommendation on total fat comsumption has taken a firmer shape, reflecting a range from 20 to 35 percent of daily intake.
But this year, for the first time in the history of the USDA guidelines, the agency may not recommend a fat limitation at all. The current draft proposal calls for no limit on total fat intake.
The implications for many families could be huge. The federal guidelines set the standard for a number of programs and agencies, from school lunches and food assistance programs to the military.
Sharon Wegner is a nutritionist and chef based in San Jose who says the USDA's decision to exclude a recommended limit on fat consumption could be dangerous.
“If you give people free range, they’re going to go to the maximum,” she said. “And I do think that’s going to create long-term problems."
Wegner said that there are “good” fats, like nuts and avocadoes, and “bad” fats, like the saturated kind. She says the general public doesn’t necessarily understand the difference.
Lifting the limitations entirely could pave the way for greater consumption of the so-called “bad” fats, she said.
Some in the scientific community argue that lifting the restriction could make room in people’s diets for healthier fats, like olive oil and fish.
In a recent viewpoint published in the Journal of American Medical Associations, doctors from Boston Children’s Hospital and Tufts University stated that, “The elimination of the upper limit on total fat would make it easier for industry, restaurants, and the public to increase healthful fats and proteins while reducing refined grains and added sugar.
The viewpoint also points to recent research which suggests that diets higher in healthy fats—like the so-called Mediterranean Diet—actually reduce the risk of heart disease, even if consumption of those fats exceeds the federally recommended daily limit.
But not everyone is able to make the distincton or the healthiest choices, Wegner argues.
“I think they need to stress what’s a good fat and what’s a bad fat,” she said. “I would have some sort of guideline. You don’t just take it away. That’s going to create long term health problems.”
The federal guidelines will officially be determined this fall.