/ Food & Drink

Should trans fats be banned from our food?

Stack of donuts

Nice has made a pretty dramatic statement with its latest guidelines, calling for a total ban on trans fats. Ok, they’re a particularly nasty fat type, but surely we can make up our own minds when it comes to what we eat?

A few years ago our research exposed high levels of trans fats in some foods, helping to prompt voluntary action by the main food companies to remove them.

“To their credit, many companies have made progress,” says our Senior Advocacy Advisor, Mette Kahlin. “We’ve been pleased with the voluntary approach by industry, but now it’s time to ensure everyone is acting.”
She believes the Food Standards Agency (FSA) should work with the food industry to make it clear that including trans fats is no longer acceptable, promoting the fact that voluntary action can work. “If not, then legislation should be considered, but only as a last resort,” she argues. “When most of the industry is acting responsibly, it’s important that any stragglers play their part too.”

One bit of the Nice guidelines we were pleased to see was their support for an integrated colour coding system on food labelling. The system includes traffic lights, the text “high, medium and low”, as well as %GDA to show whether a product has high, low or medium levels of salt, fat and sugar.

This is something we’ve been shouting about for years, and we’re not alone. Research shows consumers want it, the FSA wants it and now Nice wants it too. Shame the European Parliament still isn’t listening, but that’s at least 4-1 to us so far. Who will be next to join in?

Chris Plymouth says:
1 July 2010

The thing is they don’t always list transfats on the labels so you can’t choose not to eat it because you don’t know it’s there – and it is really nasty stuff, worse than saturated fat.

Dutchyboy says:
1 July 2010

While it’s great that companies are removing them, this sounds like you’re patting industry on the back for getting rid of something that shouldn’t have be in food in the first place. Trans fats are popular due to their relative low cost and the fact that they keep for longer, but their harmful properties are well-established. You struggle to think of other items for sale in your supermarket that are responsible for 1,000s of premature deaths that come without warning attached. As Chris points out, even people that are aware of them can struggle to identify them on an ingredients list, and as NICE argued their presence in fast foods in particular means certain population segments may be more at risk than others.

Bluealienfish says:
5 July 2010

Yeah, trans fats are bad but we are constantly being bombarded with ‘this is bad for you’, ‘that is bad for you’, I find it too confusing to sort out what I should be addressing first. If I avoided everything that we’re told is bad, I wouldn’t breathe let alone eat or drink.

There needs to be more co-ordination of messaging around a limited number of top ‘things’ so as to help ‘normal person’ sort the wood from the trees.

As for trans fats, there are a number of ways that they can be avoided…

The following is an extract from the NHS Choices website

Trans fats can be formed during a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenated fats must be declared on the label so if a product contains hydrogenated fats, it may contain trans fats. Look out for the words partially hydrogenated on food labels these products may also contain trans fats.

If you want to avoid trans fats you should:

– avoid products that list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated or shortenings on the label,
include lots of fruit and vegetables in your diet,

– use fat-free or low-fat dairy products,

– avoid fast food, high and full fat margarine and baked goods such as doughnuts, pastries and biscuits,

– use lean cuts of meat and poultry and cook them without skin, without adding trans fats,

– use liquid vegetable oil for frying, and

– ask about trans fat content when eating at a restaurant or café.

Richard Kinley says:
15 July 2010

Grown up people can decide if they care about what they eat and, if they do, make the necessary effort to avoid rubbish. Alternatively, they can decide that they've got better things to do, such as enjoying themselves.

Sophie Gilbert says:
28 July 2010

Much, much, much better labelling of our foods is certainly required. We’re getting there, but, boy, we aren’t there yet!

Could transfats and sugar be taxed more heavily? Maybe manufacturers wouldn’t be so tempted to lace their products with them, and maybe we’d buy fewer ourselves? And the money raised should be ring-fenced to go to the NHS.


’nuff said

Well said Chris. It seems to be totally obvious. We wouldn’t allow poisons to be added to food.

If our “Masters” choose to ignore us poor consumers perhaps we should collectively e-mail ( a shout mail?) them at a specific date. Perhaps it may penetrate their tiny minds.

Should the individual not choose what he or she eats without being dictated too weather that is full fat recipies or helthy what happened to human rights and this being a free country ?

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angie69 says:
12 January 2012

The individual should be able to choose however some labelling is misleading also recent investigations have identified that vegetable oil (supposidly a good oil) can also contain TF’s. Not a lot of people know that and they deserve to know the truth, how can we make informed choices if we are not informed. The only reason I have found out this information is because I am covering TF’s and IPTFA’s in a university assignment otherwise I would be oblivious to the fact. It has also become apparant that a lot of cheap food products brought from other countries for our bargain shops, cheap food outlets contain a high percentage of TF’s which are not regulated and finally the contents are in a foreign language. I don’t want to die from an avoidable disease, when its my time to go I will go, either naturally or through choices i have made, not ones I knew nothing about!!


If the ingredients are not listed in English I would be wary of any food imported into the UK. Look for foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, which will indicate that trans-fats may be present.

Small amounts of trans-fats are not a problem and our big manufacturers have done a lot to eliminate trans-fats from foods, so your information might be out of date. Don’t rely on websites intended for the general public. Much of it is written by people who don’t know what they are talking about. Look for specialist information that contains references to journal articles.

Dian says:
25 May 2012

Are the ingredients labelled mono and di glycerides actually trans-fats.? If so what percentage? Should the label state that the product contains trans-fats?

If trans-fats are present the ingredients will include hydrogenated vegetable oil. They are unlikely to be labelled as trans-fats.

Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers, used to keep blends of oil and water blended together. Without them, the blend would gradually separate into two layers. A typical use would be in commercial mayonnaise, which has to have a long shelf life without separating. They are unlikely to contain trans-fats.

Can anyone tell me if any food containing trans-fats is still on sale in the UK?

I am referring to man-made trans-fats rather than those present naturally.