Irish foods low in trans fats, high in saturated: survey

By Annie Launois

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fatty acids Nutrition Fatty acid Hydrogenation

The results of a survey by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland
(FSAI) on the fat content and fatty acid composition of
pre-packaged food products reveal that generally, levels of
trans-fatty acids in the surveyed products are low.

However, the FSAI is urging the food industry to find creative solutions to reformulate products, which still show high levels of saturated fats. One hundred retail food products available on the Irish market were analysed for total fat content and fatty acid profile including trans fatty acids. The samples comprised products which would be expected to naturally contain trans fatty acids such as cheese and products which may include industrial trans fatty acids as a result of the manufacturing process (eg fried food and snacks) or ingredients (eg hydrogenated oil). Results indicate that overall eighty percent of products surveyed contained less than two per cent trans fatty acids as a percentage of total fat. Thirty-three products declared hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. The results of the survey regarding the impact of the use of hydrogenated oils as a possible source of trans fats are indecisive. The survey shows that dried gravies and soups containing hydrogenated oil had the highest concentrations of trans fatty acids overall. However, 64 per cent of products declaring hydrogenated as an ingredient had levels of less than two per cent trans fatty acids as a percentage of total fat. Of these 33 products, 29 were high in saturated fat. Some products such as cereal and milk bars had saturated fat concentrations of more than 84 per cent of their total fat. If the level of trans fat may be lower than expected, the high level of saturated fats identified in the products surveyed represents high health concerns, said the FSAI. Thirty-four per cent of all products surveyed contained more than 50 per cent saturated fat (as a percentage of total fat). Health concerns​ Trans fatty acids - produced by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil - and saturated fats, which consist of triglycerides fully saturated with hydrogen atoms, have both been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, albeit by difference mechanisms. While the former is industrially produced, the latter is found naturally in such foods as meat, hard cheese, butter, and cream. Advice for industry ​The FSAI concluded that there is no doubt that food companies should continue to reduce the levels of the trans-fat content of foods which needs to be maintained as low as possible. However, the FSAI urges food companies not to opt for the option of replacing trans fats with saturated fats, "even in the short term, because this is not a sustainable solution for the improvement of dietary health."​ The FSAI said that a number of technologies already exist to minimise the formation of industrial trans fatty acids in products which contain hydrogenated oils. The reformulation of oils usually involves using partially hydrogenated oils with high oleic acid vegetable oils such as canola, peanut and palm oils. Other solutions include the manipulation of hydrogenation techniques, which consists in increasing pressure, catalyst concentration and agitation during hydrogenation to decrease trans fatty acid formation, and the use of specialised hydrogenation techniques such as supercritical fluid state hydrogenation. The use of these technologies may help to reduce trans fatty acid concentrations in food products, said the FSAI. The FSAI also believes that the mandatory labelling of the trans fatty acids and saturated content of foods could lower the risk of heart disease and reduce obesity as it would enable consumers to make healthier food choices. It announced that a further survey of trans fatty acids in fast foods is planned for 2008. The FSAI will send the results of these two surveys to the European Commission for consideration during negotiations of Council Directive 2000/13/EC on food labelling.

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