The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) organised a workshop on the 9th and 10th April in Zagreb, Croatia entitled 'Trans fatty acids in diets: health and legislative implications'. The workshop aimed to present and discuss recent data on the presence in food and consumption of trans fatty acids in Europe and to exchange ideas and practices to reduce trans fatty acids in foods and their consumption. It brought together around 30 European experts on fats, food science and technology, public health and nutrition.
The data presented at the workshop by Prof. Ingeborg Brouwer from the VU University Amsterdam stressed further the known negative health implications of industrial trans fatty acids (iTFA) consumption, in particular, the strong link between iTFA intake and cardiovascular disease. Whether naturally occurring trans fats (also referred to as ruminant transfats) have the same effects remains unclear, although their effects on blood lipids appears to be similar.
Two presentations by the JRC and by Prof. Steen Stender from Copenhagen University Hospital took stock of the most recent data on the presence in foods and consumption of trans fatty acids in Europe. In contrast with the worrying situation seen in many European countries ten to fifteen years ago, the vast majority of the products tested in recent years, and for which data is available, do not contain high levels of trans fatty acids. However, in some countries, products with high levels of TFA can still be found on the market. Prof. Stender showed unpublished data that revealed the presence of a number of food items produced in some southeastern European countries, e.g. Croatia or Serbia, containing high levels of TFAs (up to 40% of the fat) and that - depending on their frequency of consumption - may represent a cause for public health concern in the countries where they are available.
Dr. Franz Ulberth from the JRC presented a number of different methodologies that are currently available for the detection and quantification of these particular fatty acids in foods. Dr. Sergey Melnikov from Unilever R&D described the use of alternative processes and ingredients that can be used to replace trans fats in margarines for example.
The presentations were followed by stimulating discussions where the participants exchanged ideas related to the issue of trans fatty acids in foods. Some of the aspects discussed were the need for further data collection on the presence of TFAs in foods and how to best collect these data. The participants also discussed the different options to reduce and replace iTFA in foods along with their costs and health benefits.
A more comprehensive summary of the presentations and discussions will be published later this year in a dedicated workshop report.
In conclusion, the past years have seen great improvements and efforts from several stakeholders in reducing iTFA levels in foods, both voluntarily or enforced in some member states by regulatory measures. However, there is also data available that point to the existence of some products in the European markets that contain high iTFA levels. It is also important to note that while consumers may need to be educated to avoid over-consumption of such products, public health measures in this regard must not neglect the health implications of overconsumption of other nutrients such as sugars, salts or saturated fats.
For additional information please see the relevant page on the JRC-IHCP website.