The EU adopted a regulation on Wednesday to curb trans fat amounts in products like snack food as part of efforts to fight heart disease and strokes in Europe. Trans fat, also called trans unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, is a type of unsaturated fat that occurs in small amounts in nature, but became widely produced industrially from vegetable fats starting in the 1950s for use in margarine, snack food, package bake goods, and for frying fast food.
Fats contain long hydrocarbon chains, which can be either unsaturated, i.e., have double bonds, or saturated, i.e., have no double bonds. In nature, unsaturated fatty acids generally have cis as oppose to trans configurations. In food production, liquid cis unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils are hydrogenate to produce saturate fats; which have more desirable physical properties: e.g., they melt at a desirable temperature (30–40 °C); and extend the shelf-life of food.
Double bonds into trans double bonds
Partial hydrogenation of the unsaturate fat converts some of the cis double bonds into trans double bonds; hence by an isomerization reaction with the catalyst use for the hydrogenation, which yields a trans fat. Although trans fats are edible, consuming trans fats has show to increase the risk of coronary artery disease in part by raising levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL, often term “bad cholesterol”).
Lowering levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, often term “good cholesterol”); so increasing triglycerides in the bloodstream and promoting systemic inflammation. Trans fats also occur naturally, e.g., the vaccenic acid in female breast milk; also some isomers of conjugate linoleic acid (CLA). These trans fats occur naturally in meat and dairy products from ruminants. Butter, for example, contains about 3% trans fat.
Two Canadian studies have show that vaccenic acid could be beneficial compare to hydrogenate vegetable shortening, or a mixture of pork lard and soy fat, by lowering total LDL and triglyceride levels. A study by the US Department of Agriculture show that vaccenic acid raises both HDL and LDL cholesterol; so whereas industrial trans fats only raise LDL with no beneficial effect on HDL.
Popular among food producers
Industrially produce trans fatty acids, like margarine and some harden vegetable fats; hence are popular among food producers because they are cheap and typically have a long shelf life. But given their link to cardiovascular disease, trans fats have also been blame for more than 500,000 deaths annually; so according to World Health Organization figures.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, set the limit from April 2, 2021 at two grams of industrially produce trans fats per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fat in food. It said the regulation also requires wholesalers; hence to notify retailers of any food that contains more than the limit. The measure aims at protecting consumers’ health; also providing Europeans with healthier food options, the Commission said in a statement.
The European Food Safety Authority and other bodies have conduct studies; so pushing for the lowest possible consumption of trans fats. In May last year, the WHO unveiled a plan to eliminate the use of trans fats, extending progress in wealthier countries to those in poorer ones.