In the last few weeks I have been watching a story unfold online and I just have to bring it to your attention.
It involves a new online service called the Fat Information Service (FIS), which has been set up to help people better understand the role and benefits of dietary fats, primarily the difference between good and bad fats or as it is put on the website “understand the facts from fiction when it comes to dietary fats and oils.”
On the surface, the intention of the site is exactly the same as thousands of other nutrition and health sites, to help people get healthier and live longer.
From their site:
How Can the Fat Information Service Help You?
- Access reliable information about the role and benefits of dietary fats and oils, including how to differentiate good fats from bad fats.
- Understand the facts from fiction when it comes to dietary fats and oils
- Get up-to-date commentary on the latest research findings and government recommendations.
- Benefit from practical advice and tips, enabling you to feel confident that you’re making the right dietary choices for you and your family.
This all looks really promising – a service which is greatly needed.
However, if you look (they don’t hide the fact) you will see that the site is run by Unilever, a massive producer of margarine products many of which make claims to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease or cholesterol.
It does say that the FIS “is supported by an independent group of healthcare professionals who have a very broad range of experience and expertise.” How independent can they be if Unilever is paying their wages?
They not surprisingly advise people to eat less saturated fat (specifically butter) and more unsaturated fat (margarine).
Which is not necessarily anything new, it’s standard government advice, and is not the really fascinating part of this story.
I used to advise people to eat like this myself when I worked on a government run GP referral scheme. The fact it’s coming from a margarine producer and at a time when the sale of butter is going through the roof, does make me at the very least – a bit sceptical.
It’s a big conflict of interests that a margarine company is providing a “public” information service on dietary fat, surely they would advise in favour of their products and against the other options (which they do).
It’s a very interesting and in my opinion SHOCKING story.
If you want to read the full story first hand, go to Dr Briffas site.
The FIS claim (and the main point of contention):
(which was removed after Dr Briffa’s article & letter. Wonder why?)
“The evidence shows clearly that the risk of developing heart disease is reduced when saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats.”
Today, I will give you an overview of the discussion between the expert Dr Carrie Ruxton from the FIS, who wrote the claims on the fat information service site, and Dr Briffa who has challenged them.
Excuse me if it’s a bit – “he said this” and “she said that”, but it’s a debate or an argument so that’s what happens.
In response to this claim, in an article on his site Dr Briffa said:
In support of her claim that “risk of developing heart disease is reduced when saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats” Dr Ruxton cites a study that shows no such thing.
The story doesn’t stop there, Dr Briffa sent a letter asking the expert doctor to explain how she had come to her conclusions.
He said “I’ve contacted Dr Ruxton and she tells me she’s consulting people internally at the Fat Information Service responsible for doing ‘background research’ and putting text on the website. Let’s see what comes out of this. However, it seems to me that Dr Ruxton has grossly misrepresented the findings of the review.”
Dr Briffa went on to say:
“My feeling is this is not good enough from a person working for an organisation that purports to provide accurate advice about dietary fats. Is the endgame here for us to be better informed about how to eat to improve our health? I honestly doubt it. My sense is the Fat Information Service is a kind of dietary propaganda machine that exists to convince people of the nutritional virtues of margarine over butter. My advice: don’t swallow it.”
So you get the picture. He has stirred things up a little. The “butter v margarine war” is well and truly hotting up.
On the FIS site there is an article titled “Growing trend for butter over margarine highlights worrying misconceptions”
It seems that they (the FIS/Unilever) are the ones with the worrying misconceptions.
Based on what we have already said, in my opinion this article is absolute rubbish.
Just an attempt to keep their business from hitting rock bottom, margarine sales are at a big low as the title of the article suggests.
The article says “The bottom line is that margarines represent a healthy, natural choice for consumers”.
It says things like the primary ingredients of margarine are natural, which technically they may be, but once they have been processed and hydrogenated and had chemicals and preservatives added, it’s not natural any more.
In comparison with an organic butter, it’s far from natural.
Did you know? If you place a small piece of butter and margarine outside on a plate, the butter will get eaten by ants and the margarine will not get touched. It’s classified as a non food, and doesn’t really need to be in the fridge in Tesco’s!
So it’s not good enough for the ants but it’s good enough for us, what do they “instinctively know” that we don’t?…
(Factoid number 2: Margarine was introduced as a cheaper alternate to butter.)
Online people have responded, and with passion too.
People started to comment on Dr Briffa’s article, with a massive backlash against the new service and the information they were providing.
In my opinion we should be very grateful for Dr Briffa doing this, he has done a brave thing and stood up and spoke for all of us who support the research which says the exact opposite.
The Dr from the fat information service responded to Dr Briffa, and he wrote a second article. Here it is.
In a nutshell the article details the doctors responses to what Dr Briffa said and then his responses to that, if you are still with me.
As I said, in an email Dr Briffa, asked Dr Ruxton to refer specifically to the part of the review which supports the claim, and she provided him with this:
On page 19 of the 2011 Cochrane review, it is stated that: “dietary saturated fat reduction (through reduction and/or modification of dietary fat) may be protective of cardiovascular events overall, reducing them by 14%”
This is now getting down to the nitty gritty.
Dr Briffa said:
“You cannot use this evidence to support your claim, as the outcomes were not confined to ‘heart disease’. It is almost inconceivable to me that you either do not understand the difference between ‘heart disease’ and the composite outcome used in the review, or are attempting to pass them off as the same thing. Your response demonstrates either a failure to properly interpret the findings of this review or intellectual dishonesty.”
He continued “The review did look specifically at the impact of either lower-fat diets or fat-modified diets on risk of myocardial infarction (which is obviously of direct relevance to your claim).”
He ultimately said: “There was nothing at all in the review that supports your claim that: “The evidence shows clearly that the risk of developing heart disease is reduced when saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats.”
In her response to Dr Briffa, Dr Ruxton accused him of being “rather pedantic.”
She also said “While the Cochrane review used the terminology of ‘cardiovascular events’, the consumer tends to understand ‘heart disease’ better and this is why I chose this term for my press quote.”
(Heart disease = high blood pressure, angina, coronary artery disease. Cardiovascular event = heart attack.)
The Dr for the FIS is actually admitting to changing the terminology to suit her needs.
Heart disease is not the same as a cardiovascular event.
In a final response she said:
“I can see that John and many of those who have commented on this forum do not believe the evidence suggesting that saturated fats represent a risk to cardiovascular health. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, as am I.”
In her response to the previous post, she describes herself as an ‘independent dietitian’. Personally, I believe that use of the word ‘independent’ here is stretching it a bit, seeing as the Fat Information Service (and, I assume, Dr Ruxton) is funded by Unilever.
I think this just proves how deep the lies can go in these big corporations to earn money without a thought to the public’s health.
The final words go to Dr Briffa:
“To my mind, either Dr Ruxton does not have the ability to interpret the review she cites or has misinterpreted it and misled us. Only she will know the truth. The rest of us will just have to decide for ourselves.”
I think that says it all.
What do you think about the Fat Information Service?
Dr Briffa ‘What is the fat information service up to?, 18/07/13
Dr Briffa ‘What is the fat information service up to? – Part 2, 23/07/13