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Headlines > Science & Nutrition

Label all fats to cut heart disease, urge scientists

By Anthony Fletcher , 28-Jul-2006

Food labels should list all fats to help cut heart disease, according to researchers from the University of Oxford.

Writing in this week's British Medical Journal (BMJ Vol. 333 p214), the experts argue that such a move is vital in the fight to combat the UK's number one killer.

This is a Europe-wide problem. It has been estimated that cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe.

What's more, CVD is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.

And trans fats are increasingly in the firing line. Although more of a public health issue in the US, public awareness of the problem in Europe is growing and food makers should be concerned.

Trans fats, which are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products, have been negatively linked to raising blood cholesterol levels and promoting heart disease.

Research shows that when too much 'bad' cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain resulting in atherosclerosis.

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

This analysis found a 2 per cent increase in the energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 per cent increase in the occurrence of coronary heart disease. In fact, the authors noted that the harmful effects of trans fatty acids were seen even when intake was really low, only 3 per cent of total daily energy intake (20-60 calories), about 2-7 g for a person consuming 2000 calories per day.

Some Member States have already taken action on this matter. Legislation introduced in Denmark in 2004 mandated that all oils and fats used in locally made or imported foods must contain less than 2 per cent industrially produced trans fatty acids.

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

And in January 2006 the US Food and Drug Administration 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.

There has been growing pressure for the whole of Europe to follow Denmark's example and force food makers to clearly label the presence of trans fats. For example, this is the thinking behind the UK Campaign Against Trans Fats in Food, a web-based organisation that aims to put pressure on industry and regulators and raise awareness of the dangers of trans fats.

The UK Food Standards Agency is now pressing for 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.

They believe that 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.

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