Putting a stop to harmful trans fats
25. April 2006, Trans fats in food constitute a growing problem because they are suspected of increasing the risk of blood clotting and hardening of the arteries.
But why take the risk when it is possible to produce products without trans fats?
In many countries, the general intake of trans fats is high because consumers are not yet aware of the connection between cardiovascular disease and trans fats, or indeed of the existence of trans fats.
In particular, trans fats are found in products such as margarine, cakes, biscuits and crisps, and they come into being when oils and fats undergo partial hydrogenation. The aim of this process is to give the oils and fats melting properties that adjust the melting point of the end-product so that, for example, chocolate melts in the mouth and not in the hand.
Unlike the conventional process of partial hydrogenation, new enzyme technology offers the possibility of obtaining these melting properties without at the same time producing harmful trans fats.
Healthier, cheaper and better for the environment
As well as enzymes, there are currently two other methods of adjusting the melting point of fats: hydrogenation and chemical interesterification. Both have unwanted side-effects. The first produces trans fats, while the second has a negative impact on the environment and leads to discolouring of the fat, which means that further processing is required. Using enzyme technology, trans fats are avoided, the environment is spared, and a natural product is obtained with natural flavours and better retention of other healthy substances from the oils.
Legislation on the way
Nutrition experts have been warning about trans fats for years, and around the world the authorities are now beginning to follow up on the recommendations with new legislation. In the USA, the content of trans fats has to be stated on all product labelling. Denmark has effectively banned the use of partial hydrogenation by setting a low upper limit for the amount of trans fats in foods. And Canada, which already has a trans fat labelling rule, is now considering adopting rules similar to those in Denmark. However, until legislation is in place, consumers need to be aware of their intake of trans fats if they want to avoid increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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