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Achievement of dietary fatty acid intakes in long-term controlled intervention studies: approach and methodology

  • MC Nydahl (a1), RD Smith (a1), CNM Kelly (a1), BA Fielding (a2) and CM Williams (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 February 2003

To describe the calculations and approaches used to design experimental diets of differing saturated fatty acid (SFA) and monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) compositions for use in a long-term dietary intervention study, and to evaluate the degree to which the dietary targets were met.

Design, setting and subjects:

Fifty-one students living in a university hall of residence consumed a reference (SFA) diet for 8 weeks followed by either a moderate MUFA (MM) diet or a high MUFA (HM) diet for 16 weeks. The three diets were designed to differ only in their proportions of SFA and MUFA, while keeping total fat, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), trans-fatty acids, and the ratio of palmitic to stearic acid, and n – 6 to n – 3 PUFA, unchanged.


Using habitual diet records and a standardised database for food fatty acid compositions, a sequential process of theoretical fat substitutions enabled suitable fat sources for use in the three diets to be identified, and experimental margarines for baking, spreading and the manufacture of snack foods to be designed. The dietary intervention was largely successful in achieving the fatty acid targets of the three diets, although unintended differences between the original target and the analysed fatty acid composition of the experimental margarines resulted in a lower than anticipated MUFA intake on the HM diet, and a lower ratio of palmitic to stearic acid compared with the reference or MM diet.


This study has revealed important theoretical considerations that should be taken into account when designing diets of specific fatty acid composition, as well as practical issues of implementation.

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Public Health Nutrition
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