Are trans fat snacks killing you?


Burger and fries

There's a fair chance you'll eat some trans fats today.

Grab a burger for lunch, or even a doughnut, and you're getting a good dose.

Don't expect the person behind the counter to warn you.

Restaurants and food manufacturers prefer not to talk about trans fats.

However, the expert group that advises the NHS in England and Wales is making its views clear.

Trans fats are a 'health hazard', according to the National Institure for Clinical Excellence.

It has just published a report calling for them to be banned from food.

NICE says it would save the NHS millions and stop tens of thousands of people dying from heart disease or strokes.

What are trans fats?

The stuff that they put in food is really bad. Especially if they don't tell you because more often than not they don't put it on the labels.

The chemistry around fat and oils is complicated.

Simply put, most trans fats are man-made.

A process called hydrogenation is used to turn liquid fats, such as vegetable oil, into solids.

In the early days that was seen as a good thing, replacing unhealthy saturated animal fats.

The new products also gave food an improved shelf life.

However, there is now a weight of scientific research suggesting that trans fats are bad and contribute to heart disease.

The World Health Organisation defines them as 'toxic'.

Where are trans fats?

I agree with a ban. It's definitely a good idea. I try to eat healthy.

Many food companies have reduced their use of trans fats in recent years.

However, they are still found in much of what we eat.

They sometimes appear on ingredients lists as 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oil'.

Cakes, buiscuits and pastries often have trans fats in them.

They also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.

One of the most common sources is fast food.

Oils containing trans fats are considered good for frying because they last longer.

Should they be banned?

We've all survived so far, so I think banning stuff is a bit dramatic.

There are already bans in other parts of the world.

Restuarants in New York City are not allowed to fry in trans fats or use them in the food they serve.

Several countries, including Denmark have also banned them.

An attempt to pass a similar law in Scotland recently failed.

Food manufacturers argue that a ban is not necessary because they are voluntarily reducing trans fats.

A recent study suggested our consumption has fallen to 0.8% of what we eat.

That puts it below the World Health Organisation's suggested maximum of 1%.

Those who appose an outright ban, say the real worry is our high intake of saturated fat.