NHS watchdog NICE calls for trans-fats ban

More than 40,000 Britons are dying unnecessarily every year because of high levels of salt and fat in their diets, the Government’s public health watchdog Nice has warned.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) says that unhealthy foods have wreaked a “terrible toll of ill health” on the nation and placed a “substantial” strain on the economy.

For the first time, the organisation publishes landmark guidance on how to prevent the “huge number of unnecessary deaths” from conditions such as heart disease that are linked to the consumption of ready meals and processed food.

The NHS watchdog NICE is calling for trans-fats to be eliminated from food in England.

The artificial fats are often found in biscuits, cakes and fast food – but they can damage health.

NICE is also pressing for further reductions in salt and saturated fats, to help prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease.

The British food industry said it was already leading the world in promoting healthier production.

Cardiovascular disease, which comprises heart disease and stroke, is the biggest cause of death in the UK.

Experts who worked on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines say 40,000 of the 150,000 annual deaths are “eminently preventable”.

They believe that reducing salt and saturated fats, as well as banning trans-fats, would save the NHS more than £1bn.

The group’s vice-chairman, Professor Simon Capewell, who is a public health physician in Liverpool, said: “Everyone has the idea that prevention is worthy, but takes decades to be fulfilled.

“We were pleasantly surprised when we looked into this.

“We found evidence from Poland, the Czech Republic and Cuba that changes in diet can lead to results with improved health in two to three years.”

4 Replies to “NHS watchdog NICE calls for trans-fats ban”

  1. Doctors have demanded a ban on man-made trans fats, according to The Guardian.

    The news is based on a series of recommendations from the UK Faculty of Public Health, which is concerned about the potentially harmful effects of the manufactured fats. The chemically modified fats, found in biscuits, margarine and ready meals, have been linked to coronary heart disease and increased cholesterol.

    The proposal came as part of a series of recommendations designed to improved UK health over the next decade. The call to completely remove trans fats from the British diet echoes bans in Denmark and parts of the US and Canada.

    Who has called for a ban?

    In addition to the recommendations of the UK Faculty of Public Health, the Food Standards Agency and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that trans fat consumption should be kept to a minimum. The WHO advocate phasing out the use of trans fats. Current UK recommendations are that trans fats should not provide more than 2% of a person’s dietary energy intake.

    What are trans fats?

    Trans fats are a range of fats that can occur naturally in limited amounts in meat and dairy products. They can also be manufactured by chemically altering liquid vegetable oils so that they become solid fats. This chemical process is called hydrogenation. Trans fats may be among the fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils. These modified vegetable oils are relatively cheap and are used by the food industry to deep fry, bulk up or improve the texture of food.

    However, trans fats are not thought to be that widely consumed as many supermarket chains and food manufacturers have already removed them from their products. The Food Standards Agency estimates that in the UK, trans fats make up just 1% of the average person’s energy intake, which is half of the 2% recommended limit.

    What are the dangers?

    Trans fats have been linked to high cholesterol, raising levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. There is also an associated risk between consumption of trans fats and coronary heart disease. One study also suggests that overconsumption of trans fats might make it more difficult to conceive.

    What are they found in?

    Trans fats are found in some products that contain hydrogenated fats, such as biscuits, pastries, pies and processed foods. They can also be found in prepared full-fat dairy products, fatty meat products, chips and fried fast foods. In the past, trans fats were commonly found in margarines and other artificial spreads, but they have now been removed from most of these products.

    Adding hydrogenated vegetable oil is a cheap way to bulk up food or improve its texture. This means that trans fats may be found in relatively high quantities in fast food. As well as being high in trans fats, these types of foods can also be high in calories and saturated fat, and do not generally play a role in a healthy, balanced diet.

    How are they listed on food labels?

    You can reduce your intake of trans fats by looking at food labels on pre-packaged foods and being aware of the types of items that may contain them.

    In the UK, only margarines and spreads must be labelled with their trans fat content. However, there is no legislation requiring food manufacturers to automatically label the amount of trans fat in their products, although some do voluntarily. If a product contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fat on its label it may also include trans fats. A number of supermarket chains have policies banning the use of trans fats in their own-brand products. Shop staff may be able to provide further detail.

    What steps could be used to phase out trans fats?

    The Faculty of Public Health has proposed several steps to help eliminate trans fats from the UK diet. These measures include:

    * Increasing public awareness of the need to reduce intake of saturated and trans fats, replacing them with poly- and monounsaturated alternatives, such as olive, rapeseed, nut and seed oils.
    * Adopting a single, simple food labelling scheme (such as the ‘Traffic Light’ scheme recommended by the Food Standards Agency) under which all food manufacturers and supermarkets must clearly state levels of saturated and trans fats in food products.
    * Putting the food industry under further pressure (including the threat of legislation) to reformulate its products. The emphasis of these changes would be to use less saturated fat, eliminate trans fats and to offer a wider range of reduced-fat alternatives.
    * Revising the EU Common Agricultural Policy to reduce subsidies of the production of beef and dairy goods, which may be high in saturated fat. In turn, there should be increased support for the production of unsaturated oils from sunflower, maize and rapeseed, plus the growth of fruit and vegetables.
    * Improving standards, training and quality control within the catering industry to promote ingredient choices and cooking methods that reduce saturated fat and eliminate trans fats in meals.
    * Reducing saturated and trans fats in food provided in schools, e.g. by increasing nutritional standards for schools.
    * Imposing more effective restrictions on advertising high-fat snacks to children.
    * Continuing the promotion of the 5 A DAY message, and improving access to good-quality, affordable, fresh fruit and vegetables as a substitute for fatty foods.

  2. Here’s some good news for fast food addicts. Five major US food chains, including McDonald’s and Burger King, have cut down on trans fats in their food.

    Trans fats can elevate the risk of heart disease by increasing “bad” cholesterol and decreasing “good” cholesterol levels.

    The latest findings from University of Minnesota School of Public Health suggest that major fast food chains may have been responsive to public health concerns.

    Researchers relied on the School of Public Health proprietary database, comprising nutritional values of more than 18,000 foods, to look at levels of trans fat and saturated fat in french fries from chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen.

    They found that three of the restaurants – McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s – significantly decreased the trans and saturated fatty acid composition of French fries between 1997 and 2008, says a university release.

    “While it took time for major fast food chains to decrease trans fats in their foods, I’m pleased to see that they have done it,” said Lisa Harnack, associate professor of epidemiology at the school, who led the research.

    “I’m also pleased to see that they haven’t raised levels of saturated fats to replace trans fats,” Harnack added.

    The findings were presented at the National Nutrient Database Conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

  3. The Mars chocolate company is to cut the saturated fat in some of its products in the latest effort to meet new health guidelines, it has been announced.

    The Mars, Snickers, Milky Way and Topic chocolate bars will have 15% less saturated fat than their previous recipes from next month, Mars Chocolate said.

    The move follows new guidelines from the Food Standards Agency earlier this year recommending that manufacturers reduce the saturated fat in chocolate confectionery by at least 10% by the end of 2012.

    Mars said consumers would not notice any difference in the taste of product, adding the reduction would remove more than 600 tonnes of saturated fat a year from the UK diet.

    Fiona Dawson, managing director of Mars Chocolate UK, said: “The Mars bar holds a special place with UK consumers.

    “This made it all the more important for us to keep the same great taste, and is the reason that this reduction in saturated fat represents such an achievement.

    “We are and remain committed to improving the nutritional content of our products.”

    British Nutrition Foundation director general Professor Judy Buttriss said: “Saturated fat is a health issue that needs addressing by consumers and food manufacturers alike.

    “In order to reduce total intakes across the population to below 10% of total energy intake, the formulation of all sources of saturated fat – even popular treats – needs to be tackled.

    “Any initiative to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the UK diet is a step in the right direction.”

  4. Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid(s). Trans fats may be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated but never saturated.

    Unsaturated fat is a fat molecule containing one or more double bonds between the carbon atoms. Since the carbons are double-bonded to each other, there are fewer bonds connected to hydrogen, so there are fewer hydrogen atoms, hence “unsaturated”. Cis and trans are terms that refer to the arrangement of chains of carbon atoms across the double bond. In the cis arrangement, the chains are on the same side of the double bond, resulting in a kink. In the trans arrangement, the chains are on opposite sides of the double bond, and the chain is straight.

    Each fat molecule has three hydrocarbon chains. The process of hydrogenation adds hydrogen atoms to cis-unsaturated fats, eliminating double bonds and making them into partially or completely saturated fats. These more-completely saturated fats have a higher melting point, which makes them more attractive for baking, and the saturation extends their shelf-life. However, partial hydrogenation converts a part of cis-isomers into trans-unsaturated fats instead of hydrogenating them completely. Complete hydrogenation converts the fat into a saturated “hard” fat. Hard fats can be softened by cutting with cis fats such as vegetable oil, or by transesterification with cis fats into fats with cis unsaturated and saturated hydrocarbon chains.

    Trans fats occur also naturally, although to a limited extent: Vaccenyl and conjugated linoleyl (CLA) containing trans fats occur naturally in trace amounts in meat and dairy products from ruminants, although the latter also constitutes a cis fat.

    Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential, and they do not promote good health.

    The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

    Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more harmful than naturally occurring oils.

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