This secret ingredient is a killer but you can’t avoid it

Food regulators in the US have imposed an outright ban on trans fats, which are used by manufacturers to enhance flavour and retain the shape of foods. Brands have three years to phase out the hydrogenated vegetable oils and develop alternate recipes.

Trans fatty acids are known to increase “bad” cholesterol while lowering “good” cholesterol, and are considered a major factor in the incidence of heart attack and death in America.

High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver damage and Alzheimer’s are other diseases associated with eating trans fats on a regular basis.

In Australia, food regulators have known trans fats are bad news for many years but its unlikely we will see them banned.

And, even if you’re a conscientious eater, Australian labelling laws mean you won’t always find this killer ingredient listed, no matter how hard you scrutinise food labels.

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Trans fats are occasionally listed as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” but manufacturers are not required by law to list trans fats on food labels – if they are present, they are included in the overall saturated fat percentage.

In the 1990s, Australia’s food industry removed trans fats from margarine, which massively reduced the average Aussie’s intake. We now consume well below the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 1 per cent.

However, Dr Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist with the Public Health Association of Australia says people with less money are still eating too much trans-fatty acids.

“Significant levels of trans fats are more likely to be found in food at the cheaper end of the market; products like doughnuts, pastries and cakes. So foods still containing trans fats are likely to be bought by people who have less money to spend on food,” she told Fairfax.

Other foods that could contain trans fats are biscuits, and frozen meals and snacks like chicken nuggets. Some smaller fast-food outlets still use solid oils that include trans fats, and according to Fairfax public health researchers recently found one brand of margarine containing 5% trans fats was being consumed in Aboriginal and lower socio-economic communities.

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Naturally occurring trans fatty acids are present in small amounts in meat and dairy, however, it is the manufactured trans fats, derived from vegetable oils that are associated with greater health risks.

The PHAA deputy chief executive officer Melanie Walker says a blanket ban on artificial trans fats would be unhelpful because they could be replaced with something equally as unhealthy.

Along with the Heart Foundation, Choice and AMA, the PHAA is campaigning for compulsory labelling of trans fats on foods that contain them.

Would you like to see trans fats listed on ingredients lists? Do you think it should be mandatory?