Leading academics and researchers are set to challenge the way Canadians think about saturated fat, sodium and sugar and explore the pitfalls posed by the "nutrient-focused" approach used in dietary guidelines at a series of cross-Canada symposia titled, "Straight Talk about Nutrition Guidelines". The events will take place in Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal, and Moncton and are organized by the Registered Dietitians at Dairy Farmers of Canada. 

Traditionally, nutrition recommendations and guidelines have been based on studies largely focused on the effect of specific nutrients on specific risk factors such as LDL-cholesterol or blood pressure, as opposed to looking at the impact of whole foods on actual disease risks. However, this "nutrient-focused" approach and "single risk factor" approach to dietary guidelines has largely ignored the true impact on actual health of nutrients, and more importantly real, whole foods.

Research is increasingly clear on the fact that we need a more food-based approach in our nutrition recommendations that takes into account the true impact of foods on overall health. "With this large growing body of evidence, we, as health professionals, need to be aware of this new data and information which may challenge some of our views," said Isabelle Neiderer, registered dietitian and Director, Nutrition with Dairy Farmers of Canada. "This is becoming particularly apparent in the areas pertaining to saturated fat and sodium where a growing body of research is questioning some of our assumptions." The following is a list of talks at the symposia:

Is it time to revisit saturated fat guidelines?
Benoît Lamarche, PhD, FAHA, Laval University

Current dietary guidelines encourage limiting saturated fat intake. Yet, new research suggests that the consumption of saturated fat may not be associated with coronary heart disease. In fact, recent research shows that the saturated fat in milk products have actually been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The time has come to reassess current dietary recommendations related to saturated fat.

Dairy fat, obesity and cardiometabolic health
Mario Kratz, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington (Toronto and Vancouver) and Stephan J. Guyenet, PhD, University of Washington (Montréal and Moncton)

A systematic literature review of existing studies refutes the notion that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk and, in fact, suggests that high-fat dairy consumption, within typical dietary patterns, is inversely associated with obesity risk.

Dietary sugars and health
John L. Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, FRCPC, St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto

Sugars have replaced fat as the dominant public health concern in nutrition, sparking numerous debates. However, there are uncertainties and gaps in the scientific evidence linking sugar consumption with negative health effects. Sugars only contribute to weight gain insofar as they contribute to excess calories. Attention needs to remain focused on reducing overconsumption of all highly caloric foods, and more importantly, to consider whole foods and dietary patterns rather than singling out individual nutrients when developing public health guidelines.

Sodium recommendations - What are optimal levels?
Michael H. Alderman, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, U.S.

Dietary sodium, essential to human existence, has sometimes been a scarce and much valued nutrient. Recently, however, many authorities have suggested that the sodium intake of most people is excessive and can negatively impact health. Yet, there is no evidence that reducing sodium intake to less than 2.3 grams per day (as recommend in dietary guidelines) is associated with health outcomes superior to those of persons consuming between 2.5 and 5.0 grams per day, which is the average consumption.