Official Release of Risk Assessment of Dietary Trans Fatty Acids intake in Chinese Population

Updated:2015-04-10 Clicks:19732

1. Background

High intake of trans-fatty acids can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke. In 2010, several mainstream media focused on the health risks of trans fatty acids and suggested that “trans fatty acids are a time bomb on the table”, which caused a tremendous impact on the industry and public and attracted great attention from the regulators. In 2011, the Expert Committee of Food Safety Risk Assessment designated “risk assessment of dietary trans fatty acids intake in the Chinese population” as aprioritized program, in order to give a scientific opinion to the public and provide the basis for management measures.

Over the past two years, China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA) has conducted surveys on the content of trans fatty acids in processed foods from five major cities and the consumption of food containing trans fatty acids by the population of three years old and above in Beijing and Guangzhou. Based on these data, we conducted a risk assessment on the dietary intake of trans fatty acids among Chinese population by referring to the recommendation proposed by WHO that the ratio of energy supplied by trans fatty acids shall be less than 1%.

Trans fatty acid is the generic term for unsaturated fatty acid withat least one “non-conjugated trans double bond” in the carbon chain. Trans fatty acids in food comes from two main sources, namely, processed food and natural food. The trans fatty acids derived from processed food are mainly formed during partial hydrogenation of oils and fats as well as refining and deodorization of vegetable oils. Besides, cooking food at high temperature (>220) also can produce a small amount of trans fatty acids. Natural trans fatty acids at low levels also can be found products from ruminant animals, mainly in fat, cream and butter.

Available data shows that excessive intake of trans fatty acids can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. However, there is no clear evidence that trans fatty acids are associated with diseases such as early growth and development, type II diabetes, hypertension and cancer, etc.

2. Assessment Results

According to the assessment results, the energy from dietary trans fatty acidsintake only accounts for 0.16% of total dietary energy among Chinese population and the percentage is only 0.34% for big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou, which is not only far below the WHO recommendation but also significantly lower than the consumption level in many developed countries.

The former media reports greatly exaggerated the health risks of trans fatty acids to current Chinese population.

The assessment also found that processed foods are the main source for dietary trans fatty acids intake among urban residents, accounting for 71.2% of the total intake and the rest are from natural sources. Among processed foods, vegetable oils account for 49.8% and other processed foods make up a small percentage, among which pastry, biscuits and bread, etc. are all less than 5%. Most coffee mate contain none or a very low level of trans fatty acids.

Although the overall trans fatty acids intake of Chinese population is low, about 0.4% of urban residents have exceeded the WHO recommendation. With the development of the economy and life style change, the consumption of processed foods containing trans fatty acids will increase, together with the increase of the consumption of vegetable oils. Thus the industry, the Government, the scientific community and consumers should still pay attention to this issue.

3. Government Management Measures

Government Departments are putting a lot of effort into controlling trans fatty acids in food, such as banning hydrogenated oil in infant food. The standard for food nutrition labeling implemented since January 2013 explicitly stipulates that the content of trans fatty acids shall be mandatorily declared if hydrogenated oil is used as an ingredient.

In addition, risk communication measures were carried out in various ways such as the Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents issued by the Ministry of Health, which clearly advice consumers to “Stay away from trans fatty acids and limit the intake of food processed by hydrogenation”. The Government also encourages and supports the food industry to improve the technology as much as possible and reduce the content of trans fatty acids in processed foods and cooking oils.

4. Expert Advice

Food diversification, a balanced diet and adequate exercise are the basis for goog health. Consumers are advised to choose a well-balanced diet and not to eat food containing high levels of trans fatty acids such as bakery products including wafer biscuits, sandwich biscuits, cream cakes and pie, etc.

The health risk of saturated fats in foods should not be ignored. If animal oil and fat are used as a substitute for hydrogenated vegetable oil, the health risk caused by saturated fats may be different. There have not been sufficient studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.