Trouble with Transfats

Reporter: Sophie Hull

Transfats, hidden in many foods, may be a serious health risk. Professor Garry Jennings from the Baker Heart Research Institute said it was best if people avoided them. "Transfatty acids have been shown to increase your cholesterol and lower HDL, which is the good cholesterol," Professor Jennings said.

In fact, a new study from Oxford University shows that a slight increase in transfats in your diet may increase your risk of heart disease by 23 per cent. Transfats are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are made by taking a liquid oil and transforming it biochemically with hydrogen to create a solid. They are added to food as a way of improving taste, texture and shelf life.

Nutritionist Sharon Natoli is concerned about transfats and how to spot them in food."One of the ways, if not listed in ingredient panel, is to check the nutrition list and if you find words like shortening, animal fat or vegetable fat, that might be an indicaiton that the food contains some transfats," Sharon said.

It is practically impossible to tell which foods contain transfats and how much is in them. "No, some foods are really hard," Sharon said. "This product has probably got transfats in it because it's fried." "The oil gets heated and transfats are produced in that product, so some things it's really hard to know." Denmark was so concerned about the health risks, it banned all foods containing more than 2 per cent transfats. But here in Australia there are no such regulations, despite a recent Choice magazine survey finding foods such as Hungry Jack's Whopper and Fries had a massive 22.5 per cent transfat content.

Many other products also had high amounts, and they may not be the products you expect: Nutella spread, cheese crackers and Pods all contain transfats.Food Standards Australia say they are looking into it, but so far nothing has been done. The best indicator for consumers is a "tick" symbol from the National Heart Foundation, indicating the product contains less than 1 per cent transfat. So far, around 1200 products have the tick, including some brands of margarine, ready meals and breakfast cereals."Right now, it's voluntary and some food manufacturers do and some don't," Professor Jennings said of the label."i would like to see some indications from our authorities about what is considered a reasonable level to include. And then I'd like that to be on the label so we can make our choices."

More information on the Choice Magazine survey is available from www.choice.com.au (paid registration may be required).

The National Heart Foundation's tick program is explained online at www.heartfoundation.com.au

Australian food standards are documented atwww.foodstandards.gov.au.