WHO recommends that 10% or less of calories come from saturated fats and 1% or less from trans-fats. It advises polyunsaturated fatty acids can be used as a replacement.
The objective of the guidelines is to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) in adults and children.
Saturated and trans-fats
Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, milk, meat, some oily fish and egg yolks, and some plant-derived products such as chocolate and cocoa butter, nuts, and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.
Trans-fatty acids can occur naturally in meat and dairy products from ruminant animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, etc).
They can also be industrially produced by partial hydrogenation of vegetable and fish oils and are found in baked and fried foods (e.g. doughnuts, cookies, crackers and pies), pre-packed snacks and food and partially hydrogenated cooking oils and fats.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally and were responsible for more than 17 million deaths in 2016.
High intakes of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids have been identified as major causes of CVD and death.
Correlation with CVD risk
An active adult has an energy need of about 2,500 calories per day.
Dr Francesco Branca, director at WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said CVDs are largely preventable by adopting a healthy diet, being physically active and eliminating tobacco and alcohol use.
“Generally healthy diets are mainly based on plant foods, are high in unrefined carbohydrates, low in free sugars and salt, high in fruits and vegetables with fats mainly from vegetable sources. Dietary saturated fatty acid and trans fatty acids are of particular concern because high levels of intake are correlated with the increased risk of CVDs.
“We are talking about 250 calories coming from saturated fat and that is approximately a bit less than 30g of saturated fat.”
Dr Branca added this amount of fat could be reached by 50g of butter, 130-150g of cheese with 30% fat or 1L of full fat milk or 50g of palm oil.
WHO is updating the population nutrient intake goals for the prevention of non-communicable NCDs established in 1989 and updated in 2002. It has already released updated guidance on intake of sodium, potassium and sugars.