A decade on: Irish diet contains too much saturated fat, not enough fish oils

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The review of these study findings once again highlights the benefits as well as negative effects of a diet emphasising certain fats. (© iStock.com/tonygers)
The review of these study findings once again highlights the benefits as well as negative effects of a diet emphasising certain fats. (© iStock.com/tonygers)

Related tags: Fatty acids, Nutrition

Saturated fat intake has increased in Irish adults and omega-3 fish oil intake has decreased in younger age groups, according to a 10-year comparative study.  

The review of study findings between 2001 and 2011, once again highlights the benefits as well as negative effects of a diet emphasising certain fats.

Increased intakes of saturated fatty acids (SFA) increase blood cholesterol concentrations and risk of cardiovascular disease, whereas long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) offer benefits to metabolic health​ and age-related functional decline​.

Current recommendations from the World Health Organisation have established total recommended fat intake to be 15–35% total energy. This drops to less than 10% for saturated fats and less than 1% for trans fats. It suggests polyunsaturated fatty acids should make up around 6–10 % of total energy.

Similar guidelines have been set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which has also suggested that saturated fat and trans-fat intakes should be as low as possible. EFSA also set a recommendation for omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) at 250 mg/day.

Study details

data information research survey iStock.com jojje9999
Researchers began analysing data from 2011, collected as part of the National Adult Nutrition Survey.(© iStock.com/jojjee999)

Researchers from the University of Cork and the University of Dublin teamed up to analyse data from 2011, collected as part of the National Adult Nutrition Survey.

Here, 1051 Irish adults aged 18–90 years were questioned on their dietary habits and food sources, and asked to keep food diaries.

These results were then compared to those from  a similar survey carried out in 2001, the North/South Ireland Food Consumption Survey.

The team discovered that in 2011, fat consumption for 18-64-year-olds totalled 34.1% of total energy intake.

Saturated fats made up 13.3% of this, falling to 12.5% for monounsaturated fats,  6.1% for polyunsaturated fatty acids and 0·511% for trans-fats. 

There was no statistically significant difference in intakes of EPA and DHA by 18–64-year-olds in 2011 (269.0 mg/d) and 2001 (279.1 mg/d).

In 2011, adults aged over 65 years had the highest intakes of saturated fats; however, the study stated that intakes were typically higher than UK-recommended values for all groups.

In contrast, intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids were lowest in younger age groups. Intakes of trans-​fat were well within UK-recommended levels.

“Although there have been some improvements in the profile of intakes since 2001, imbalances persist in the quantity and quality of dietary fat consumed by Irish adults, most notably for total and [saturated fats] and for younger age groups for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids,”​ the authors noted.

Fat intake in Europe

trans fat
Intakes of trans-fat were well within UK-recommended levels. (© iStock.com)

The intake of fat has been the subject of a number of studies. Intakes of saturated fats by Irish adults in 2011 agree with those reported in other EU countries​ such as France, Finland and the UK, which make up around 12–15% of total energy.

Although a slight reduction of 0.6% in mean daily intakes was recorded, average intakes of saturated fats in Ireland have swayed from a guideline of about 10% of total energy and from the EFSA guideline​ of ‘as low as possible.’

“This poses challenges, as despite public health education campaigns and initiatives by the food industry and regulators all population groups were affected, with the lowest levels of compliance (less than 29%) with less than 10% total energy recommendation ​by older men aged over 65 years and men and women aged 36–50 years.”

The researchers warned that given the beneficial role of these fatty acids for cardiovascular health and particularly during pregnancy and lactation, such low intakes by younger subgroups, may have implications for longer-term health.

Just over half (52·6%) of Irish consumers ate fish in any form in 2011, leading the researchers to believe that fish consumption was higher in older than in younger adults, and omega-3 oils from fish higher in supplement users than in non-users.

These patterns were not observed in 2001. This suggested that there was a segment of the Irish population who did not consume fish or fish oil supplements and with inadequate intakes of beneficial long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Source: British Journal of Nutrition

Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516000787

“Dietary fat intakes in Irish adults in 2011: how much has changed in 10 years?”

Authors: Kaifeng Li et al.

Related topics: Research

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