No fear of trans fats in Finnish margarines

Related tags Trans fats Trans fat Fat

The Finnish food safety body has concluded that trans fats are not a problem in margarines and spreads on the Finnish market, after examining products’ composition.

Trans fats, are unsaturated fats that have one or more double bond between carbon atoms. Consumption of trans fats, especially those from partially hydrogenated oils, have been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, as they raise levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Recent research has investigated a link with colon cancer, too.

However research into the effects of trans fats on health only really began to emerge in the 1990s. Until then the emphasis was on reducing saturated fats in the diet, notably from butter and other animal products. The result was that early margarine and shortening products, marketed as butter replacers, tended to have high levels of trans fats.

The EU does not impose limits for the amount of trans fats in products, nor require that trans fat information is included on labels (unlike in the US, where it has been mandatory since 2006). Some EU member states have introduced their own trans fat legislation however. For instance Denmark requires that they make up no more than 2 per cent of oils and fats as ingredients. The UK’s Food Safety Authority (FSA) declared in 2007 that voluntary measures to cut out trans fats have been successful.

The Finnish research team, led by Professor Kimmo Peltonen, found very low levels of trans fats in all the 18 samples it analysed. The samples had total fat levels ranging from 29 per cent to 80 per cent. In 10 of them, no trans fats were detected at all.

The highest trans fat level detected was 0.5g per 100g, too low to be of significance for health. This has led the Finnish authority, Evira, to conclude: “Trans fats are not a problem with the margarines and fat spreads on the Finnish market”.

Evira set out to investigate fatty acid compositions in margarines and spreads as part of a broader research project, which has aimed to develop a method for analysing fatty acids, and to compare the fatty acid profile of ‘light’ products with that of ‘regular’ products.

Beyond margarines and spreads, the project will look next at the fat composition of ice creams made with vegetable fats.

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