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Elusive Solution for Eliminating Trans Fats

Limiting and labeling trans fats in food is not enough, according to Walter Willett, an epidemiologist and nutrition professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who argues to food manufacturers that they should be banned altogether.

Willett was among dozens of speakers on the opening day of the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo here, the world’s largest annual food science forum and exposition.

While some trans fats occur naturally in foods, most are the result of cooking or baking with hydrogenated oils. Those oils provide creamy textures that are enjoyable to eat and affect positively the shelf life and stability of many foods like baked goods

“Human life is more important that shelf life,” Willett said. “Food scientists are capable of creating products that are free of trans fats and still have shelf life.”

Denmark has banned trans fats and other European countries have reduced their use. But researcher Ronald Mensink of Maastricht University in The Netherlands, said a more moderate approach is good.

“You make no friends with the word, ‘Ban,’” he said.

Still, Mensink argues that Europeans agree that dietary trans fats should be consumed in as low amounts as possible, or less than 1 percent of the diet.

While Willett holds up New York City as the trend leader among other cities enacting trans fat bans, he concurred that “a careful, thoughtful proactive national legislation is the best approach.”

Since January 2006, food labels have listed the amount of trans fats per serving, though there is no recommended daily allowance.

A significant problem in replacing these hydrogenated oils with healthier ones lies in the supply of soybean, canola, rapeseed and alternative crops to make replacement oils. A According to Brent Flickinger, research manager of Archer Daniels Midland Co., farmers are not yet producing enough of these to replace more abundant varieties.

Now in its 67th year, the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo is the world’s largest annual scientific forum and exposition on food. Ranked among the largest U.S. conventions, the meeting delivers comprehensive, cutting-edge research and opinion from food science-, technology-, marketing- and business-leaders; online at Meetings run through Wednesday.

Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see

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