General populations worldwide do not meet intake recommendations for essential fatty acids

December 2, 2013

A new review from the Netherlands shows that, in many countries, the polyunsaturated fatty acid intake of adults does not meet the levels that are recommended to prevent chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease.

The systematic review included data from national dietary surveys and population studies of 40 countries worldwide – including European countries, the US, South Africa, Australia and Asia – providing fatty acid intake data (1). The data analysis showed that the mean intake of adults met the recommendation for total fat (20 to 35% of energy intake) in 25 countries, for saturated fatty acids (less than 10% of energy intake) in only 11 countries, and for polyunsaturated fatty acids (6 to 11% of energy intake) in 20 countries. In 27 countries, where more detailed information was available, the majority of the adult population had poly- unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intakes below 6% of energy intake. In general, lower saturated fatty acid (SFA) intakes in the populations were not accompanied by higher PUFA intakes, as is recommended for preventing coronary heart disease.

The researchers commented that these findings are consistent with earlier studies on fat and fatty acid in- takes in adults and children, indicating that in many countries, SFA intakes are higher and PUFA intakes are lower than recommended. The relatively large contribution of SFA to total energy in developed countries is likely to be due to high intakes of SFA-rich foods such as meat and dairy products. Lowering the intake of SFA and replacing it with PUFA has been shown to have a substantial impact on the incidence of coronary heart disease in the population (2). The scientists concluded that this data reinforces the need to focus public health campaigns on the replacement of foods and fats rich in SFA with those rich in PUFA, especially in countries with high SFA intakes.


  1. Harika R. K. et al. Intake of fatty acids in general populations worldwide does not meet dietary recommendations to prevent coronary heart disease: a systematic review of data from 40 countries. Ann Nutr Metab. 2013; 63:229–238.
  2. Mozaffarian D. et al. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. 2010; 7:e1000252.