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Understanding trans fats

Trans fats - also called trans fatty acids or TFA - are used in some processed food, including cakes and biscuits, to give them a longer shelf-life.

Some trans fats are found naturally in food, but artificial trans fats are made when oil is processed using hydrogenation to make it more solid.

Eating too many trans fats can cause high cholesterol increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Because of health concerns, many UK food manufacturers have now removed trans fats from their products.

Trans fats can be located on food labels by looking for partially hydrogenated fat or oil.

The British Dietetic Association says that although we eat far fewer trans fats than saturated fats, you should aim to cut down on trans fats as part of a healthy diet. The government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition says trans fats should make up no more than 2% of our food energy.

Trans fats: Food categories to watch out for

In 2010, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) called on food manufacturers to work together with the government and local authorities to ensure healthier food gets on our plates. The main focus was working towards cutting levels of salt and fat and in particular, a total ban on using trans fats.

  • Biscuits, crackers, cakes, muffins, pies, pastry cases and pizza dough
  • Some spreads and vegetable shortening
  • Ready-prepared cake mix and chocolate drink mixes
  • Fried foods, including doughnuts, crisps, and chicken nuggets
  • Snack foods, including crisps, sweets and packaged or microwave popcorn
  • Frozen meals

Trans fat-free products: Does better nutrition come at a higher price?

Budget-conscious shoppers might be tempted to buy the cheapest brand of pastry or pie. However, don't make that decision at the expense of nutrition. Reformulating foods to reduce or eliminate trans fats costs manufacturers money. Again, be sure to read the nutrition label carefully so you know if you're buying a healthier version of the snack, biscuit, cracker or cake.

There's also concern that some food manufacturers will remove trans fats only to substitute low-cost saturated fats - another contributor to heart disease - something that the British Heart Foundation wants to make sure doesn’t happen.

Snack food: Better alternatives

While some food manufacturers may try to reduce or eliminate trans fats, health experts say even the reformulated snack food products rarely deliver good nutrition. Most are loaded with empty calories and should be avoided anyway.

The British Heart Foundation advocates a diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, especially wholegrain products; low-fat dairy products; pulses, poultry and lean meats; at least two portions of fish a week including one of oily fish.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 06, 2017

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