Jan 22, 2007

Trans Fat in the Straits Times Again

I just noticed that my helpful reader Richard Seah also has a letter in the Online Letters section of the Straits Times. An excerpt:
    ST Jan 20, 2007
    Think margarine is healthy? You might be better off with butter

    THE World Health Organisation recommends that the intake of saturated fat should not exceed 10 per cent of total calories, while that of trans fat should not exceed 1 per cent.

    There is an important difference between these two numbers. Ten per cent saturated fat is the healthy level - because saturated fat is needed for many body functions.

    By contrast, 1 per cent trans fat is a compromise level. Trans fats are extremely harmful and not needed at all. The healthy level for trans fat is essentially zero.

    If we compare like with like - which is more meaningful - we will realise that all Singaporeans exceed the healthy level of zero trans fat. And we all exceed that level infinitely.

    Probably the biggest difference is this: Saturated fats are widely perceived to be harmful, while many people still do not know about trans fats - and think that products like margarine, which contains trans fat, are healthy.


Mikey said...

trans fats or trans fatty acid to some occurs when normal yummy and harmless looking oil (vegetable, etc...) reacts with hydogen, water or worst, both. Yikes!

This process is known as Hydogenation and it occurs rapidly only in an enviroment of high temperature and pressure. so there. relax. hold on to your dinky plastic cooking oil bottles.

Hydogenation is basically a process where it fuses hydrogen gas into any readily edible oil (liquid form by nature) into a thicker, viscous form. something like a paste. (e.g. Margarine, Yucks.) in a nut shell, the longer the Hydrogenation process, the 'harder' the end product would be.

Now, after hearing all those nasty dir-r-r-ty little secrets bout Trans fats, why do people (fast-food chains especially) still practice alamagate their culinary consummables in trans fat then? well, first of all;

*trans-fat products are by far the cheaper alternative to their pedigree cousins (butter, lard, etc...)

*It gives a 'Crisp' mouth feel to products that were lavishly-bathed in them (read: deep-frying).

*They freeze pretty well, thus easier transportation. PS: ALL fast-food chains uses Trans-fatty acid laden cooking oils. They are called 'Vegetable Shortening' and they come in blocks resembling white candle wax.

*Also, every wondered why your favourite off the shelf crakers keeps for so long without refrigeration on the shelf? Trans Fats! They can keep indefinately if store in a 'cool, dry place'. Familar? know you know. If bacteria don't eat them, Why should you?

but anyway, all nasty truths aside the process of Hydogenation occurs virtually in every cooking process, steaming, frying, baking ,etc... in minute negligable amounts off course. you simply can't run away from it. The trick is.... Morderation. no one good thing taken in ezcess is good for anyone.

Now if you excuse me, i'm off to get my weekly fix of a certain Fillet-o-Whatitsname.


Emma said...

Trans fat naturally occurs in some foods, like butter, but are also formed in the processing of some foods where product texture and shelf life are desired. I’ve learned a lot about this subject because I work with the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers. In addition, heart disease runs in my family so I’ve got a personal interest in this subject as well.

Have you looked at a margarine label lately? You won’t find any soft or liquid margarine that contain trans fat, and trans fat levels of stick margarines have been greatly reduced. Using new technologies, margarine manufacturers have met the challenge and eliminated or reduced trans fat in margarine products, making a good product even better. In fact, the margarine industry has led the food industry in removing trans fat content from its products. Soft, liquid and spray margarine products are now in sync with the recommendations included in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid food guidance system. Soft margarine products were elevated in their importance in that they “help meet essential fatty acid needs and also contribute toward Vitamin E needs” according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

When comparing margarine to butter, many margarine products are the recommended alternative as stated by of the American Heart Association, as well as the Federal government’s National Cholesterol Education Program. And yes, it’s still an economical choice for the consumer. For more information, visit http://margarine.org/qanda.html, http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/cholmonth/chol_kit.htm and http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200000.

Anonymous said...

Modern margarine may contain less trans fats than those before the 1990s. But there is more to it besides trans fat.

Ever wondered how margarine is made?

Some of us might know that it is through a process called hydrogenation, but the details of this process are scary.

I was shocked the first time I read that when margarine comes off the production process, it is GREY AND SMELLY.

It needs to be bleached, deodorised, coloured and artificially flavoured before we (maybe not we but some people) would eat it. And of course, ants, cockroaches, even bacteria, won't eat it still.

How can such a product be "heathier choice" regardless of how much or how little trans fat it contains?

To add to what Mikey says about long shelf life, there is one nutritionist in the US, Bonnie Minsky, who bought a cup cake made with trans fat in 1981 and left it lying around "to see what happens".

Today, nearly 26 years later, the cup cake is still looking fresh. It outlasted even its plastic packaging!!!

From the food industry's perspective, trans fats are better than plastic!

Learn about all these and more at www.stop-trans-fat.com especially

Finally a big THANK YOU to Mr Wang for taking this trans fats discussion to blogosphere and for mentioning my website.

Anonymous said...

A few other points by EMMA need to be clarified.

1. Trans fats are also found naturally. YES. The difference is that natural trans fats are not known to be harmful and they are even known to protect against cancer.

To get natural trans fats, take meat and butter from GRASS FED COWS, eg Anchor butter from NZ.

I believe French butters also from Grass Fed, but not 100 percent sure on this. Anyway, my recommended butter is Carrefour organic butter, costs $6++ at Carrefour, but tastes yummy.

Cheaper than some world famous french butter recommended some time ago in Sunday Times, costs $20++

2. Soft Margarine "elevated" for meeting essential Fatty Acid needs.

Half true. Margarine provides plenty of Omega-6, which is an essential fatty acid, but hardly any Omega-3.

The thing is, most people already have far too much Omega-6 and this is causing yet more health problems.

Eg Many margarines are made with cottonseed oil (which is normally toxic). And cottonseed oil has over 50 percent Omega 6 plus negligible Omega 3.

This screws up the Omega 6:3 ratio even further. Ideal ratio is supposed to be around 2:1 or 1:1, not 50:0.x

Plus, trans fats interfere with the body's utilisation of Omega 3.

In contrast, saturated fats help the body conserve and utilise Omega-3.

This is yet another good reason for taking saturated fats like butter instead of plastic food like margarine.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to all for sharing their perspective & knowledge on this matter...

How about simplifying things and just "reveal" the types of food that contains trans-fat, without having the reader eg: me, becoming more confused after the tedious read.

Thanks lah...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


My suspicion is that your observations on margarine are true in the US, where trans fat has been a high-profile public health issue for some time.

But there are no incentives for margarine manufacturers in Asia to do so. Especially in Singapore, where the authorities are putting zero pressure on food manufacturers regarding trans fats.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Glad to see that you are continuing to highlight the transfat issue. I wonder if the recent letters to the ST Forum in response to the HPB letter, not just the one you featured, were prompted by your blog.

A good website I found on naturally occuring transfats, which emma mentioned, could be found in tfx.org.uk "Naturally occuring transfat".

It contends that these naturally occuring transfats, including an isomer of cojugated linolenic acid (CLA), should not be conflated with artificial ones. The former could be metabolized less problematically by the body into CLA, which has healthful effects. The latter group is linked to cardiovascular diseases, while their metabolism appears to affect the body disruptivly in a myriad of ways, ranging form depressing HDL, inflating LDL and promoting insulin resistance!

It is not whether they are all tran fat or if they are natural or artificial. It is what happens to to body after ingesting that stuff. I am glad that as emma pointed out that the margerine producers are reducing transfats in their products. But would'nt that be at least a decent thing to do. No applause owed to them.

Now if we could get the government to act to impose simple and clear labelling rules. I am sure that if the consumers still do not care about their saturated fat intake as HPB seems to suggest, sales of products wold not be affected much anyway. The labels are just for the health freaks like us.


le radical galoisien said...

"I was shocked the first time I read that when margarine comes off the production process, it is GREY AND SMELLY. "

"How can such a product be "heathier choice" regardless of how much or how little trans fat it contains? "

Uh... I don't see your point? If the nutrient content is better, is it not healthier.

After all, rojak, fermented tofu and everything else? I think we have plenty of dishes (even in the western world), where the original item would be horrible without some prepatory modification. Butter itself tends to be salted before it has any taste. Perhaps you want to try certain varieties of milk before it reaches the famed "pasteurisation" and "homogenisation" process?