Reducing the intake of saturated fats may not decrease the risk of coronary heart disease as popular belief suggests, a new report claims.

According to an editorial published on 25 April in the British Journal of Sport Medicine, a review of observational studies showed “no association” between saturated fat consumption and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or general mortality.

“This idea that dietary saturated fats build up in the coronary arteries is complete unscientific nonsense,” the report’s lead author and a consultant cardiologist at London’s Lister Hospital Aseem Malhotra told the CNN news agency.

The study claimed that “decades of emphasis” on the importance on eating less saturated fats in an attempt to lower cholesterol had been “misguided”, a misconception explained partially by “selective reporting”.

Malhotra’s team reanalysed unpublished data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and the Minnesota coronary experiment, which they say revealed that replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid-containing vegetable oils “increased mortality risk despite significant reductions in low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol”.

Instead, the adoption of an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with “at least four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or a handful of nuts” achieved a 30% reduction in cardiovascular events.

The alpha linoleic acid, polyphenols and omega 3 fatty acids found in nuts, extra virgin olive oil, vegetables and oily fish were, according to the report, what reduced coronary inflammation and thrombosis.

Such a diet should be complemented with regular exercise, the study said, consisting of at least 150 minutes/week of brisk walking, and reduction of environmental stress.

“Coronary artery disease is an inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes/day and eating real food,” the study concluded.

Critics, however, have accused the report of being “unscientific” and based on observational data, CNN reported on 27 April.

Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, called the report an “opinion piece” and “unhelpful and misleading”.

“Decades of research have proved that a diet rich in saturated fat increases ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood, which puts you at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke,” he told CNN.

Additionally, some experts have disagreed with the report’s interpretation of several studies, saying that they instead support the current consensus on cholesterol instead of the opposite posed by Malhotra and others.