The content of trans fats in foods and population intakes - public health implications

Project co-financed by:

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Description of the project:

Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are a well recognised risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases. They are not synthesised by the human body and not required in the diet. A number of other possible negative effects of a high intake of TFAs are also reported, including decreased birth weight and a negative effect on the developing brain in infancy. While naturally occurring TFAs can mostly be found in ruminant fats, most TFA intake is related to the consumption of industrial trans fat (ITF), which is found in partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). PHOs are very cheap semiliquid or solid fats with attractive technological functions and therefore very attractive to the food industry. A very recent report reveals a substantial increase in the availability of TFAs in biscuits in the food supply in Slovenia. However, no other recent data are available about the availability of TFAs in the food supply or the intake by the population or different population groups. The project’s overall hypothesis is that, due to high consumers’ considerable exposure to TFAs, the use of ITF in foods should be limited. The major objectives of this project are therefore to identify the main sources of TFAs in the food supply, and determine TFA intakes in both the general population and key population groups. A key scientific challenge covered by this project is also to develop a methodological toolbox which will support the identification of specific populations with higher TFA intakes, to improve understanding of their dietary and lifestyle habits, and associated health risks. To inform policymakers with evidence needed for future decisions, this project will also address different strategies for limiting TFA intake. To meet these objectives, the project will be organised in the following three work packages (WPs):

In the first WP, we will select foods to be analysed and perform chemical analyses of them, and upgrade the Slovenian food composition database and the Open Platform for Clinical Nutrition (OPEN) with the resulting new food composition data. The selection of foods will be made using an innovative approach of weighting based on 12month sales data for each product, assuring that the most commonly consumed products will be analysed. Fatty acid profiles will be determined using the derivatisation of lipids to fatty acid methyl esters, followed by gas chromatography.

In the second WP, we will investigate dietary intake of TFAs in various population groups with different methodological approaches. In one of the tasks this will be done using food consumption data collected in the EU MENU Slovenia project. A separate task will focus on the problem of identifying high consumers where a new methodology will be developed based on data about the availability of specific food products to individual persons. While this project will exploit the use of such an innovative approach to identify individuals with high TFA intakes, such a methodology will support scientific progress in many other areas of public health and nutrition. This WP will also investigate TFA intake during pregnancy and lactation, and investigate correlations with TFA levels in human milk.

In the third WP, we will quantify consumer awareness of the role of TFAs in human health, and their motivation and ability to process TFA-related food labelling information. To gain insights into country to country differences, the study will be conducted in Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The importance of various TFA-related food product attributes on consumer preferences will be exploited using a conjoint analysis. A cluster analysis will also be conducted to identify groups of individuals with similar preferences. This WP will also continuously evaluate the overall project results to assure timely information for key stakeholders and successful dissemination.

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Nutrition institute is engaged in research and education in the field of nutrition and advising the food industry in the formulation and labeling of foods. In the scope of the institute, research group Healthy Nutrition is established, which performs research on food and nutrition.