Chapter 1 : Introduction

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The role of dietary fats and oils in human nutrition is one of the most important areas of concern and investigation in the field of nutritional science. The findings of these investigations have wide-ranging implications for consumers, health-care providers and nutrition educators, as well as food producers, processors and distributors. New evidence concerning the benefits and risks associated with particular aspects of dietary fat is constantly emerging in both the scientific literature and the popular media. At times, controversies about these findings evolve. Sifting through all the claims and counterclaims, incomplete and incompatible studies, biases and competing interests, for the elements of truth and a prudent course of action is a challenge. Yet, this task is essential because changing views about the effects of dietary fats and oils can profoundly influence the consumption of various foods and, ultimately, health and nutritional status, agricultural production, food processing technologies, food marketing practices and nutrition education.

At the invitation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), an international group of experts in nutrition, public health, food science and technology gathered in Rome from 19-26 October 1993 to consider the latest scientific evidence about dietary fats and oils. The experts attending the consultation discussed the many crucial and varied roles that dietary fats and oils play in human nutrition. They considered the intakes of different types and levels of dietary fats and oils and their associated health effects. They reviewed many of the technical factors associated with the production, processing, marketing and utilization of fats and oils. Finally, a series of recommendations about dietary fats and oils were made to assist policy makers, health-care specialists, the food industry, and consumers. This "Joint FAO/WHO expert consultation on fats and oils in human nutrition" was part of a continuing series of meetings on nutritionrelated topics which are sponsored by FAO and WHO. This consultation was the second such meeting to have been held on fats and oils; the first was held in 1977.

This report of the meeting includes a discussion of the issues and evidence considered, the conclusions and recommendations of the group and a bibliography. A wide range of topics was reviewed by the experts and this is reflected in the report. This report includes chapters on the following topics: the composition of dietary fat; aspects of fat digestion and metabolism; global trends in the availability of edible fats and oils; processing and refining edible oils; selected uses of fats and oils in food; lipids in early development; health, obesity and energy values; coronary heart disease and lipoproteins; isomeric fatty acids; cancer and dietary fat; dietary fat and immune response; dietary fat, hypertension and stroke; nonglyceride components of fats; and nutrition labelling.

Since efforts to address one aspect of diet-health relationships can affect other aspects as well, care needs to be taken not to over-emphasize any single issue to the detriment of others. The recommendations, therefore, reflect a synthesis and weighing of various concerns. It should be noted that the evidence related to the different topics varies considerably. Until more scientific information accumulates and the understanding of the complex metabolic interactions that determine nutritional and health status increases, it will not be possible to reach full agreement on each topic. This is a dilemma which is reflected in the nature of the conclusions and recommendations that emerged from the consultation. The final conclusions and recommendations are provided in this chapter, preceded by a brief note identifying key issues. We encourage readers to examine the chapters of the report for more detailed information about the topics considered and for insights into the deliberations leading to the general conclusions and recommendations of the consultation.

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