Trans fats are unhealthy, and can cause harm to your body. But, to the food industry, they are a key ingredient in processed foods because they help in preserving the product for longer periods of time.
Nutritionists and public health specialists met at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington D.C. to emphasize the need to confront the issue of the use of these harmful fats.
"Quite frankly, trans fats are a toxic substance in our diets," stated Enrique Jacoby, regional consultant for the PAHO in Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. "That is why the gradual elimination of trans fat in food supplies in the Americas is an objective that is not only desirable but also possible."
"This is something large food producers can do in a matter of months or at most, in a couple of years. Many food companies are already working towards this goal," stressed Ricardo Uauy, president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Scientific studies have shown that the fatty acids in trans fats increase levels of "bad cholesterol" and reduce levels of "good cholesterol." This can cause damage to the arterial walls, contributing to heart attacks and strokes.
Reducing the intake of calories from trans fats in only 2 to 4% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean, could prevent between 50,000 and 230,000 heart attacks each year, explained Dariush Mozaffarian, researcher and assistant professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
Trans fats are mainly found in products that contain partially hydrogenated oils which are especially appealing to restaurant operators and food processing companies because of the longer shelf life and improved texture; however, they have negative effects on human health. Partial hydrogenation not only creates trans fats but it also "destroys healthy omega-3 fats which are naturally contained in vegetable oils," explained Walter Willet, professor in Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard University School of Public Health.
Regulation efforts are already underway to eliminate trans fats from food supplies in Denmark and in cities such as New York and Philadelphia in the United States. Simultaneously, various food producers have started to voluntarily eliminate trans fats from their products. Such is the case with Kraft Foods and Wendy's in the U.S., and Unilever in Europe.
Members of the research team that met in Washington D.C. stressed that not all fats are bad. "We're not only talking about reducing trans fats, but also about increasing healthy fats in our diets. This is a positive message," concluded Uauy.
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