Leading doctors call for complete trans fat ban

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 20th April 2010

margarine-butterDoctors have supported calls for a complete ban of trans fatty acids in food in the UK.

Assistant professor Dariush Mozaffarian and Professor Meir J Stampfer, both of the Harvard School of Public Health, emphasised the dangers of eating trans fats, and pointed out that they are not natural to human food intake and can be replaced.

“Removing industrial TFAs is one of the most straightforward public health strategies for rapid improvements in health. On the basis of current disease rates, a strategy to reduce consumption of industrial TFAs by even 1% of total energy intake would be predicted to prevent 11 000 heart attacks and 7000 deaths annually in England alone,” they said.

“TFA consumption is associated with a substantial risk of heart disease events, including myocardial infarction and death from coronary disease. This risk is far higher per calorie consumed than for any other dietary macronutrient, including saturated fat.”

According to Mozaffarian and Stampfer, trans fats have also been implicated in systemic inflammation, blood vessel dysfunction, insulin resistance, central obesity, heart arrhythmias, and the development of diabetes.

The editorial, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, follows the publication of a 12-step manifesto by the UK’s Faculty of Public Health in January, encouraging politicians to make twelve legislative changes to improve the UK’s health.

Five of these steps were food-related, including a minimum 50 pence price on standard alcoholic drinks, a complete ban on junk food advertising before 9pm, a compulsory standardised front-of-pack packaged-food labelling system, free school meals and the trans-fat ban.

Synthesised trans fats were created around the turn of the last century by German chemist Wilhelm Norman, who hydrogenated liquid oils to produce solid fats. The first solid vegetable oil, Crisco, went on sale in 1911 and trans fats have been a staple of the food industry ever since.

“A high TFA content provides physical and chemical properties that are attractive to food manufacturers, including the creation of relatively inexpensive (compared with animal derived fats) solid or semi-solid fat,” stated Mozaffarian and Stampfer.

According to the article, the process of hydrogenation destroys omega-3 acids, reducing propensity for becoming rancid, increasing shelf life and optimising deep-frying applications. “Use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils has increased since the 1950s because of these commercial advantages and since the 1960s because of public health recommendations to replace saturated fats (such as butter and lard) with alternatives.”