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Trans fatty acids in European diets

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JRC workshop report discusses health and legislative implications of trans fatty acids intake

Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are fats that can be naturally found in several foods that many people eat on a daily basis e.g. dairy products. Industrial trans fatty acids (or partially hydrogenated fats) are, as the name indicates, man-made and are added to several processed foods. They are used to improve product texture for example in margarines, cookies, baking products or snacks. High consumption of trans fatty acids is associated with increased risk of cardio-vascular disease and therefore efforts by many actors worldwide aim to decrease the levels of industrial trans fatty acids in foods and in diets.

The JRC has recently published a workshop report entitled "Trans fatty acids in diets: health and legislative implications", presenting the outcomes of a meeting organised by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre last April, in Zagreb, Croatia. It brought together around 30 European experts on fats, food science and technology, public health and nutrition. It aimed to discuss recent data on the presence of TFA in food and their consumption in Europe; it was also an opportunity to exchange ideas and practices on how to reduce exposure to TFA. 

The report summarises the presentations held, as well as the discussions that took place in dedicated brainstorming sessions.  Interestingly, during the meeting it was made clear that in contrast with the worrying situation seen in many EU countries 10-15 years ago, the vast majority of the food products analysed recently for TFA content, does not contain high levels of TFA. This improvement is most probably due to efforts from several stakeholders in reducing industrial TFA levels in foods, both voluntarily, or enforced by regulatory measures in some member states as Denmark. Nevertheless, data presented at the workshop showed that products with high levels of TFA can still be found on the market in some countries and depending on their frequency of consumption these may represent a cause for public health concern. Other points of discussion were the need for further data collection on the presence of TFA in foods and how to best collect these data as well as the different technological options to reduce and replace iTFA in foods along with their costs and health benefits. The report also includes an interesting analysis of different public health approaches to further reduce TFA intake in Europe, such as legal limits on TFA content in foodstuffs, mandatory and voluntary TFA labelling schemes and voluntary food reformulation pledges.


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