The margarine industry is committed to the promotion of good health. This includes promoting education and awareness on nutrition. Part of our role is to spread objective information and facts about fats so that consumers can better control the quality of their intake.
Our present factsheet addresses common questions on trans fatty acids.
Where do trans fatty acids come from and how are they formed?
TFA are naturally occurring in dairy products and meats from ruminant animals through the bio-hydrogenation of fats in their rumen . They are also formed in limited amounts during refining of vegetable oils, during their heating and frying at extreme temperatures and through partial hydrogenation (the process of solidifying liquid oils and fats) . Today, the majority of hydrogenated oils and fats undergo the full hydrogenation process, which does not create any trans fats.
What effects do trans fatty acids have on health?
Scientific research has shown that trans fats have adverse effects on health with regard to heart disease. They raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Dietary recommendations recommend that trans fatty acids intake should be reduced as much as possible.
Do trans fatty acids of animal origin and trans fatty acids of vegetable origin differ in nature and in effects?
There is an on-going debate about this question. It is sometimes said that trans fatty acids of animal origin are less harmful than trans fatty acids of vegetable origin. This perception goes against the scientific opinions of international scientific bodies, such as EFSA, that all trans fatty acids have similar adverse effects (1), (2), (3). It is chemically impossible to distinguish them since “the trans fats profiles of ruminant fat and [partially] hydrogenated vegetable oil show considerable overlap for many trans fats isomers” (4). The scientific consensus is that there is “insufficient evidence to justify the differentiation of trans fatty acids from vegetable oil and animal sources based on the isomeric forms of the trans fatty acids.” (5). Further research is needed to investigate the health and nutrition effects of trans fats of animal and vegetable origin (6), (7).
What is the current trans fatty acids intake in Europe?
EFSA recognized in its 2004 opinion that intake of trans fats in European countries decreased (8). It is also recognised that “because of the steep reduction in the production and intake of industrial trans fatty acids, ruminant fats are now the major source of trans fatty acids in most European countries and will likely become so in the US”(1). According to a European dietary survey on trans fatty acids (9), nowadays the average intake of trans fatty acids in most European countries is already below the WHO recommended daily limit of 1% energy (10). Within the average diet, trans fatty acids are no longer a public health concern in Europe. At an individual level however, achieving a low total dietary intake of trans fatty acids is still important.