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© ThinkstockThat eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise the risk of heart disease is not supported by scientific evidence

A UK cardiologist is calling for a change in public health advice on saturated fat.

Dr Aseem Malhotra says the risks have been overstated, with other factors such as sugar intake being overlooked.

It is time to "bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease", he writes in an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal.

The British Heart Foundation says reducing cholesterol through drugs or other means does lower heart risk.

Studies on the link between diet and disease have led to dietary advice and guidelines on how much saturated fat, particularly cholesterol, it is healthy to eat.

Millions of people in the UK have been prescribed statins to reduce cholesterol levels.

Dr Malhotra, a cardiology registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London, says the "mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades".

He says saturated fat has been "demonised" and any link with heart disease is not fully supported by scientific evidence.

The food industry has compensated for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar, he says, which also contributes to heart disease.

Adopting a Mediterranean diet - olive oil, nuts, oily fish, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a moderate amount of red wine - after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin, writes Dr Malhotra.

Comment: While it may be true that a Mediterranean diet filled with fruits and vegetables is better than the Standard American Diet, and there is some scientific evidence pointing to it improving one's likelihood of contracting heart disease, what is much more impressive is the data on the ketogenic diet, free of gluten and high in saturated fat, for its cardio-protective qualities.

However, Prof Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, says studies on the link between diet and disease frequently produce conflicting results.

Unlike drug trials, it is difficult to carry out a controlled, randomised study, he says.

"However, people with highest cholesterol levels are at highest risk of a heart attack and it's also clear that lowering cholesterol, by whatever means, lowers risk."

Comment: This is clearly untrue.

Cholesterol levels can be influenced by many factors including diet, exercise and drugs, in particular statins, he adds.

"There is clear evidence that patients who have had a heart attack, or who are at high risk of having one, can benefit from taking a statin.

Comment: Benefit is extremely debatable given the truly insane number of side effects of statins, many fatal, noted in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

"But this needs to be combined with other essential measures, such as eating a balanced diet, not smoking and taking regular exercise."

Comment: ... And it wouldn't be an interview with a mainstream doctor without taking a shot at smoking.

Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower rates of cholesterol in the blood.

Cholesterol can also be reduced by eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular physical activity.