[OUTLOOK]Educate on trans fats

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[OUTLOOK]Educate on trans fats

The New York City Board of Health recently banned the use of trans fat, placing people and food companies into chaos. Under this measure, all restaurants in the city, including fast foods restaurants such as McDonalds, should stop using frying oil containing trans fat by July 1 of next year. From July 1, 2008, the use of trans fat in all food products will be entirely prohibited.
After this news was broadcast in Korea, Koreans became more afraid of harm from trans fat.
These days, patients with obesity or other diseases ask about trans fat first when they see doctors.
Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. The fat is solid and can be found in margarine and shortening.
Such products were invented as alternatives to pricey butter. Trans fats have been widely used because they make food more tasty and last longer on shelves, while they cost little.
These unhealthy fats are used in fried foods, processed foods such as bread, donuts, snacks, pizza dough, pancake dough and cocoa powder.
When consumed, trans fats lower the level of high-density lipoprotein, or healthy cholesterol, while increasing the level of the bad, low-density lipoprotein, causing a variety of blood circulation problems.
According to the Lancet, a U.K. medical journal, when the consumption of trans fat increases by 2 percent, the risk of heart disease increases up to 25 percent and the risk of diabetes up to 40 percent. Accordingly, the United States and Canada made it mandatory for food manufacturers to show the level of trans fat used in each food item. In Denmark, companies cannot sell foods that contain more than 2 percent trans fats.
Then, how are things in Korea? Fat consumption by Koreans accounts for 20 percent of our diet, which is roughly half the intake of Westerners. Thus, it is estimated that Koreans consume less trans fat than Westerners. Because of that, it seems that awareness and measures on saturated fat and trans fats in processed foods have come quite belatedly in Korea.
In such circumstances, if the authorities talk too much about harm from trans fats only, people might blindly reject processed foods. The government, food manufacturers and the public should work together to reduce the consumption of trans fat, step-by-step.
Although belated, it is fortunate that the Food and Drug Administration of Korea has revised regulations on labelling food items, making it mandatory for companies to indicate trans fat content as well as saturated fat content on products. That is only a start. Children and adults should be able to choose healthy products by reading lists of ingredients carefully. Education of people and promotion of this issue are necessary for the success of the new regulations. For instance, it is known that trans fat content in foods by multinational fast food companies is lower when the country in which they are sold has stricter measures and its people have a better awareness about trans fat.
Food companies should also take part in efforts to reduce people’s trans fat consumption. Recently, a couple of food manufacturers produced food items containing a lot less trans fat than usual. This trend should become widespread in the entire food field. Thanks to new technology to minimize the formation of trans fat during food-making processes, the amount of trans fat in some pizzas has been reduced by 40 or 45 percent over the last two years. Other food businesses such as confectionery makers, fast food companies and restaurants, should develop food items containing less trans fat.
People also should be careful not to eat unhealthy fats. In particular, many foods that children prefer contain a great deal of trans fat.
Educating children on the unhealthy ingredients is very important as an increasing number of children are obese and more people suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure.
Families and schools also should be encouraged to use food ingredients containing little trans fat when cooking.

*The writer is a professor of family medicine at Inje University.

by Kang Jae-heon
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