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5 questions and 5 answers on trans-fats

| August 30, 2018 | Articles

What are trans-fats?

Trans-fats are vegetable oils subject to an industrial hydrogenation process that transform these from liquid to solid. Food producers use them to improve texture, shelf life and as stabilizers to enhance the taste of food. They have no nutritional value.

Non-industrial trans-fats are found naturally in the intestinal system of certain types of cattle such as cows and sheep, and in smaller quantities in animal products such as meat and dairy products.

In what food can they be found?

They are mainly found on fast and frozen food. Including:

  • Crackers, sweets, frozen pies and other baked food
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Pizza and frozen products
  • Vegetable shortening and stick margarine
  • Coffee creamers
  • Ready-made frosting

How do they affect your health?

The use of trans-fats increases LDL cholesterol levels, known as “bad cholesterol”, which is linked to the collection of fat in arteries, resulting in a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the main cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the Pan-American Health Organization, since 2006 experts starting raising awareness among consumers and most of the developed countries adopted measures such as the obligation of informing about their use and amounts on labels.

How can they be replaced?

Several projects are underway to gradually replace trans-fats by means of regulations in several European countries and through voluntary decisions of some multinational industries. The elimination of trans-fats in food is a feasible procedure from an industrial standpoint. The method is based on the use of oils with a high level of natural saturated fat (such as palm oil) or vegetable oils (soy, sunflower, cottonseed, corn) that are previously hydrogenated. This process can be carried out through chemical (at a lower cost) or enzymatic means, as is done in the developed countries, which allows obtaining products with very specific properties and composition.

What is happening with food in Latin America and the Caribbean?

The Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) in the United States banned all trans-fats in processed food considering it a health risk. The measure, which will become effective in 2018, will have a direct impact on exports of processed food from Latin America and the Caribbean.  Food processing companies have three years to reformulate their products and remove the partially hydrogenated oils or request permits for specific uses.

Here you can obtain more information on food regulations or check the Guide to FDA Requirements for Exporting Food to the United States put together by Pro Colombia.