Elimination of the trans fatty acids from the global food supply


Nutrition Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia


Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHOs) are a major source of industrial trans-fatty acids (iTFAs). Although their intake is identified as a considerable preventable risk for developing cardiovascular disease, these fatty acids are still found in foods in some regions, including in certain European countries. In many cases, voluntary self-regulation of the industry has been shown to be an efficient strategy, while this is not the case in all countries. Various policy options for removing iTFAs from diets are being discussed, together with current global trends and activities regarding this topic, and challenges for the food industry. Food producers should acknowledge that the greatest health-related improvements come when PHOs in foods are replaced with mono and/or poly-unsaturated fatty acids, and not fats high in saturated fatty acids – such as tropical vegetable oils.


Trans-fatty acids (TFAs) are characterised by at least one non-conjugated carbon-carbon double bond in the trans configuration. Certain TFAs are naturally produced by the bacteria in the rumen and found in small quantities in the meat, milk and dairy products of ruminants. However, higher levels can occur in foods during processing (industrial TFAs; i-TFAs) (1,2). In the previous century, the process of the industrial hydrogenation of vegetable oils was introduced to improve oil properties; beside enhancing their sensory profile and texture, hydrogenated oils are also characterised by improved stability and solidity of the oil, subsequently increasing the final product’s shelf life while decreasing the need for its refrigeration, and with a higher tolerance to repeated heating. In addition, hydrogenated oils tend to be cheaper than animal fats and for a long time were thought to be a healthier alternative to animal fats, such as butter and lard, which contain a higher quantity of saturated fatty acids (3). With the growing use of industrial hydrogenation, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHOs) have become a major source of iTFAs ...