VEGA News Item

Trans-lation of Fats and Risks to Health - 27/04/2010

Profiling the Omega

1. There are "good" fats and "bad" fats among the contents of the Food Standards Agency's Profiling system of food labelling and the cause of misunderstandings (to say, the least) between food manufacturers and what some politicians deride as the "food police". Complications abound in interpretations of just "good" and "bad" saturated (animal) fats, trans fats, omegas 3-, 6-, and 9-, and polyunsaturateds, and those generally only as initials (e.g. DHA and EPA): and then there arise the questions of quantities and proportions and ages of varied but generally confused consumers. As days shorten before the General Election, the candidates retreat from learned expositions of chemistry and risks of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and leave decisions to the liberated choice of consumers who are guided more by what they have picked up about what is fit for purpose - by smoking point, reuse for the chip basket, stir-fries, breads and bakery goods, and pasties, and still less about the oils used in processed foods and chippies - and the frequency with which they are changed, and with little refinement - used as biofuels.

2. An editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this month written for the British consumer by 2 doctors from Harvard Medical School wades unequivocally into the controversy with the assertion that the British Government "should ban the use of manufactured trans fats from all foods sold in the UK, a move that could save thousands of lives a year", trans-fats, "which are used in the manufacture of deep-fried food, margarine and baked goods such as cakes and biscuits, are big risk factors for heart disease."

3. Arguing that "even a tiny reduction in the amount of food energy the trans-fats represent in an average person's diet would have huge health benefits," state the two doctors from Harvard Medical School, Darius Mozzaffarian and Meir J.Stamper. They claim the power of their "strategy to reduce consumption of industrial trans fats (TFAs) by even 1% of total energy intake would be predicted to prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually in England alone."

4. The BMJ writers say that Denmark and New York City have each almost eradicated trans fats in foods sold locally, which was done without affecting the price, taste, or availability of products. "Removing industrial TFAs is one of the most straightforward public health strategies for rapid improvements in health," they say.

5. Some trans fats occur naturally in meat and milk. They raise "a risk far higher per calories-consumed than for any other dietary macronutrient, including saturated fat," the BMJ article states. The plea adds to growing calls from doctors and medical charities for a ban on trans fats. The UK Faculty of Public Health, which represents local councils, academia and 3,300 doctors in the NHS, has recently demanded from the Government regulations to outlaw trans fats altogether. (We comment that this would be tricky to define, assert and monitor).

6. The British Food Industry accuses the BMJ's authors of scaremongering. Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the Food and Drink Federation, claimed that the report created an unbalanced picture because it did not include data on typical intake of trans fats. She says: "Artificial trans fats have been virtually eliminated from processed foods in the UK, due to a significant focus on reformulation by UK food manufacturers.

7. The Department of Health, ruling out action, says that trans fats now account for just 0.8% of a typical Briton's daily food, which is below the 2% maximum recommended by SACN (the Government's advisers, the Scientific Committee on Nutrition). "At that rate SACN advises that trans fats at these levels do not pose health risks to consumers."

8. Introduction of loaves in standard shapes and sizes continued some of the stipulations applied and continued for the wartime National Loaf and desirability of accommodating vegetarian requirements, for various reasons, by the use of vegetable oils rather than animal fats. Labelling was improved to guide consumers and to satisfy the Campaign for Real Bread (CAMREB), launched in 1976 as part of the Vegetarian Society's Green Plans for farming, food, health and the land. Customers with Jewish and Muslim persuasions were also accommodated; they could be pleasantly surprised when " lardy bread" turned out to be made with hard vegetable fat, although such content of saturated fat might still offend the FSA's profilers. Latterday critics might object on environment grounds to the use of palm oil or soya oil, but at least the proportion of fats and oils has been reduced, and multigrain and sourdough trends have introduced some "healthy" changes.

9. Sourdough fermentations involve different microorganisms and enzymes from the agents utilized in yeast-risen leavening of the commonest types and cereals in the UK. In the earliest days of CAMREB and with concurrent research on sourdoughs in the UK and developments in glycemic index VEGA's forebears sought evidence of the formation of vitamin B12 in sourdough fermentation, for which there were signs from related studies in Japan. Our failure to confirm any success in this endeavour may be explained by variations in what were essentially wild-type processes with scanty control - ginger beer is made likewise. However, sourdough bread turned out to score GI figures lower than the results for normal wheaten loaves, wholemeal, brown, or wheat; this difference is much reduced when the bread is used in composite foods, such as beans-on-toast, for which GI values do not come out as sums of the parts, nor can they be calculated in this way. More significance can be attached in modern contracts with protein calorie contents to be reckoned for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes, on which VEGA and others are expending research efforts.


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