Artificial trans fats are made by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, a process that turns them into semi-solids, giving them a higher melting point and longer shelf-life, thereby making them better suited for use in the food industry. However, evidence has mounted over the past decade linking consumption of trans fats to greater risk of heart disease, as they lower levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol) and raise levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol).
The authors, from the Harvard School of Public Health, said that bans introduced in Denmark and New York City have shown that legislation can work to significantly reduce consumption of trans fatty acids, that there are adequate alternatives available, and that replacing trans fats does not necessarily result in increased consumption of saturated fat.
They wrote: “Because industrial TFAs [trans fatty acids] are not part of our natural food supply, their regulation does not alter individual consumer choice, being similar to regulations that prohibit adulterated foods. With increasing supplies of alternatives, the commercial and cost advantages of partially hydrogenated oils are now small.”
Artificial trans fat is most common in baked and fried foods, in which it can count for up to 45 percent of total fat content.
Voluntary reduction success
But senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation Victoria Taylor said that voluntary reductions by the food industry have already achieved significant results, and that UK citizens now consume less than the recommended maximum of two percent of their total calories from trans fats.
“This is good progress but we still need to do more to make sure that the industrially produced trans fats don’t creep back into our nation’s diets,” she said. “We can only do this by continuing to track carefully how much we are eating, and setting clear targets for food manufacturers to achieve.”
However, legislation that would have banned the use of artificial trans fats in Scotland was blocked by the Scottish parliament this week.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said that UK food manufacturers have already reformulated their products to such an extent that they do not pose a health risk.
The FDF’s director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani said that a lack of data on population intake levels in the BMJ report “creates an unbalanced picture that could give rise to unnecessary health concerns.”
She added: “ We agree that it is important to maintain a healthily balanced diet in which trans fats are consumed within the safe levels recommended by the FSA and that is why artificial trans fats have been virtually eliminated from processed foods in the UK, due to a significant focus on reformulation by UK food manufacturers.”