The truth about trans fats

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Saturated and trans fats are estimated to be 13 per cent to 17 per cent of our total diet in Australia, which is more than the recommended level.

The most dangerous are trans fats which are made from liquid vegetable oils that are hydrogenated to create a solid.Widely used in frying fats in fast foods, margarines, shortening, and in processed supermarket foods, they give more texture, hardness and shelf-life.They are also found naturally in meats and dairy foods but the Australian Food Authority has decided there is no immediate need to reduce or ban them.

Melbourne Cardiologist, Dr Nicholas Cox, said trans fats affect the cholesterol in the worst possible way. "They push up the bad cholesterol and push down your good cholesterol," he said. "They really create a cholesterol profile that is most likely to lead to coronary disease and heart attacks." Dr Cox is particularly concerned about children having dangerously high cholesterol levels from processed and fast foods."I think these companies that are producing foods that contain trans fats really have an obligation to look after their customers," he said.

"Trans fats are bad, they offer no nutritional value and the companies that produce these food really owe it to their customers to take it out of the foods they're producing." Under the laws set by the food watchdog, manufacturers do not have to disclose trans fats on labels unless they make a nutritional or health claim about the food.

Today Tonight has uncovered highly confidential documents through Freedom of Information. Trans fats are linked to the death of 25 per cent of our population. In Australia there is one death every eight minutes from heart disease.

We uncovered foods with the highest trans fats.

Butter has 4.2 per cent natural trans fats with dairy blend full-fat spreads at 3.2 per cent.

Reduced fat blends have 2.3 per cent with a cheese and spinach pastry roll containing 2.2 per cent trans fats.

Puff pastry made with butter contains 2 per cent while camembert and brie cheese contain up to 1.3 per cent.

Popcorn and ice cream have 1.2 per cent, doughnuts 1.1 per cent and regular cooking oils (not including olive oil) contain between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent.

Trans fats also are prevalent in muffins, cream-filled sweet biscuits, cheese spreads, quiche, sausage rolls, lasagne, milk-powder, potato crisps, fries from fast food outlets, cheesecake and pastries.

Research suggests a diet of just 2 per cent trans fats can increase the risk of having a heart attack by 23 per cent.

Nutritionist, Matt O'Neil, said some products are misleading. "We've eaten natural trans fats for a long time, but it's only in the last three or four decades that we've dramatically increased our consumption of man-made trans fats," he said "That is not good for us, we need to get them out of our food supply."

Other countries around the world have mandated labelling of trans fats, according to Food Sociologist, Dr Gygory Scrinis, from RMIT's Globalism Institute."I think it is outrageous that Food Standards Australia has decided earlier this year not to label trans fats on foods and nor to regulate the amount of trans fats in foods," he said. "The food industry may simply replace trans fats with other highly processed and chemically engineered ingredients."

The secret documents

You can take a look at the percentage of trans fats in food in our documents here. (PDF)