Trans-fats

Behind the Headlines

Friday August 1 2008

Trans-fats are found in baked goods and fast food

“California has become the first US state to ban restaurants and food retailers from using trans-fats”, BBC News reported. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, has pledged to phase out the use of trans-fats in Californian restaurants by 2010 and trans-fats in baked goods will be removed by 2011.

 

What are trans-fats?

Trans-fats are artificially created fats used in the manufacture of foods. They increase shelf life and the flavour-stability of foods. They are also often found in fast food, cakes and biscuits.

 

 

Where have they been banned?

In Europe, Denmark has banned all but trace amounts of trans-fats in food since 2003. The use of trans-fats has also been banned in restaurants in New York City since July 1 2008. California will phase out their use completely by 2011.

 

 

Why have they been banned in the US?

Schwarzenegger is quoted as saying: "Consuming trans-fat is linked to coronary heart disease”. Trans-fats have been shown in many studies to increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by increasing levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein – LDL)  and decreasing levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein – HDL) in the blood.

 

What about trans-fats in the UK?

In light of the US restrictions, in December 2007, Alan Johnson, the health secretary, asked the Food Standards Agency to look at:

  • the health impacts of current UK intakes of trans-fats, 
  • activities by the UK food industry to reduce levels of artificial trans-fats in food, and 
  • actions against trans-fats taken in other countries.

What did the report conclude?

The report concluded that there was evidence to show that trans-fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), but that evidence linking trans-fats to obesity and cancers was lacking.

Based on evidence of the adverse effects of these fatty acids on risk of CHD, it is recommended that trans-fats should contribute no more than 2% food energy. In the most recent survey of UK food trends, trans-fats made up 1.2% of food energy (according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in 2000/1). This is well below the current recommended intakes of trans-fats and is almost half the US average dietary intake (estimated to be 2.6% of food energy).

 

Does food in the UK contain trans-fats?

Since January 2008, members of the British Retail Consortium, which include the major UK supermarkets and fast food chains, have stopped using trans-fats as an ingredient in foods. However, food manufactured outside of the UK, such as in Europe or the US, could still contain trans-fats.

 

 

What can I do about trans-fats in my diet?

The Food Standards Agency has proposed changes to food labelling in the UK which will mean that consumers will be able to see the amount of trans-fats in the foods they consume. People can also look at the list of ingredients in their food, if "partially hydrogenated fat/oil" or "hydrogenated fat/oil," is listed, the food contains trans-fat.

 

Until any new labelling is implemented, the Food Standards Agency recommends that people should be aware of their fat intake in general. It is well-known that trans-fats are linked to an increased risk of CHD and, as part of a healthy diet, consumption should be reduced.

Analysis by NHS Choices

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Trans-fats banned in California. BBC News, July 25 2008

Links to the science

Food Standards Agency: Trans fats

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition: Update on trans fatty acids and health [PDF]

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