Trans-fats should be banned - expert at IFT

By Stephen Daniells in Chicago

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Trans fatty acids, Hydrogenation, Nutrition

Limiting and labelling trans fatty acids in food is not
enough, and they should be banned, a leading epidemiologist from
Harvard told attendees at IFT Food Expo 2007.

Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health told food manufacturers and food professionals here in Chicago, and said that Denmark had taken the right approach, Willett. Denmark introduced legislation in 2004 that required locally and imported foods to contain less than two per cent industrially made TFAs, a move that effectively abolished the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the country. "Human life is more important that shelf life,"​ said Willett. "Food scientists are capable of creating products that are free of​ trans fats and still have shelf life." ​ Though trace amounts of trans​ fats are found naturally, in dairy and meats, the vast majority are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil that converts the oil into semi-solids for a variety of food applications. Trans​-fatty acids (TFAs) are attractive for the food industry due to their extended shelf life and flavour stability, and have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas of food processing. But scientific reports that trans​ fatty acids raise serum levels of LDL-cholesterol, reduce levels of HDL-cholesterol, can promote inflammation can cause endothelial dysfunction, and influence other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD), has led to a well-publicised bans in New York City restaurants, and other cities, like Boston and Chicago, considering similar measures. ​However, not everyone was in agreement, with Ronald Mensink from Maastricht University in The Netherlands telling attendees that a more moderate approach was preferable. "You make no friends with the word, 'Ban,'"​ he said. Mensink added that European countries should aim to cut dietary intakes among consumers to less than one per cent of the diet. A significant problem in replacing these hydrogenated oils with healthier ones lies in the supply of soybean, canola, rapeseed and alternative crops to make replacement oils. Indeed, a recent review published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology​ (Vol. 42, pp 503-517) by scientists from Danisco reported that the replacement of trans fats needed to be a multidisciplinary approach. "Successful replacements of trans fatty acids is not easily achieved by simply removing the trans isomer, because of a host of beneficial functional characteristics that are readily attributable to trans fatty acids,"​ wrote Danisco's Paul Wassell and Niall Young, pointing out that the presence of the trans isomer influences melting behaviour, oxidative stability and textural properties. Moreover, Brent Flickinger, research manager of Archer Daniels Midland, said that farmers are not yet producing enough of these alternative crops to replace more abundant varieties. Wassell told recently that the pace of change is getting increasingly faster. "Today's consumers, and the powerful supermarkets, are forcing these changes with increasing pace. Because of this aspect, it requires new innovative steps to utilize ready available materials, and where possible these should come from "natural" sources,"​ he said.

Related topics: Fats & oils, Food safety and labeling

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