Reduce coronary heart disease by listing trans fats on food labels

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British researchers say that in order to help reduce coronary heart disease, food labels should list trans fats as well as cholesterol and saturated fat.

The researchers from the University of Oxford say a recent analysis of all the evidence indicates that people should reduce or stop their dietary intake of trans fatty acids to minimise the related risk of coronary heart disease.

Currently in the UK, the nutritional information posted on food labels is at the discretion of the food manufacturer, unless a specific nutrition claim, such as "low in trans fats", is made.

Trans fats, also called trans fatty acids, occur naturally in small amounts in dairy products and meat, but are also formed by a process called hydrogenation, which is used to extend the shelf-life of processed food and scientists believe that our bodies deal with these fats in the same way as saturated fats.

Both saturated fats and trans fats increase the amount of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or 'bad cholesterol' in the blood and reduce the amount of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or 'good cholesterol'.

Trans fats have no nutritional value.

People with high levels of LDL cholesterol tend to have a higher risk of getting heart disease, while people with high levels of HDL cholesterol tend to have a lower risk.

According to the analysis a 2% increase in the energy intake from trans fatty acids was found to be associated with a 23% increase in the occurrence of coronary heart disease.

The scientists say the harmful effects of trans fatty acids were still evident when intake was really low.

In 2004 Denmark made it mandatory that all oils and fats used in locally made or imported foods must contain less than 2% industrially produced trans fatty acids.

This action alone virtually eliminated trans fatty acids and had no effect on quality, cost, or availability of foods.

In January this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also mandated that all food manufacturers provide the content of trans fatty acids and cholesterol in addition to saturated fat on nutrition labels for all manufactured foods.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently pushing for a revision of the European directive that governs the content and format of nutrition labels on foods marketed in the United Kingdom and other European countries, so that these fats are labelled.

The Food and Drink Federation says the agency recognises the need to improve the labelling of trans fats in foods and is pressing for changes at European level when the Commission publishes a new proposal.

The FSA says manufacturers in the UK are fully committed to reducing the level of trans fats to as low as is technically possible.

The FSA believes that the mandatory addition of the content of saturated fat and trans fatty acids to nutrition labels would enable consumers to make healthier food choices that could lower LDL concentrations and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and other vascular events.

The article is published in the British Medical Journal.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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