Contrepoints – EU report shows that using palm oil can help improve health outcomes in Europe.
The European Parliament’s research service has published an important contribution to the European debate around trans fats. The Parliament’s eight-page document is currently on its website and anyone can clearly understand from reading it, what trans fats are and the impact they have today on public health.
The European Parliament’s document essentially reaches three primary conclusions – first, that trans fats are agreed by consensus to be uniquely harmful; second, that they can be replaced easily and beneficially with currently available natural products, such as palm oil; and third, that the EU needs to step up work on this areas as to date only four countries in the EU have actually taken sufficient action against trans fats.
The European Parliament’s conclusions show that on this subject, the whole scientific community has reached a consensus: industrial trans fats, created from partial hydrogenation of fluid oils, significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. They also argue that we would collectively benefit from promoting the limitation of consumption – or even a complete ban – and use alternative fats instead, such as certain transformed unsaturated oils, animal fats such as butter, and of course vegetable oils naturally rich in saturated fatty acids.. Palm oil for example, as highlighted by the Parliamentary research service, is already widely used around the world as a natural replacement for trans fats.
Trans fats targeted by organisations worldwide
If there is a globally accepted truth, it is that trans fatty acids are a health hazard that must be addressed. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and WHO warns that consumption of about 2% of daily energy intake increases by 23% the risk of a cardiovascular event. In response, health authorities have resolved to take action. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration of the USA issued a decision stipulating that trans fats were not recognised as generally safe for human consumption anymore. Denmark was the first member country of the EU in 2003 to limit the amount of trans fat in a product, setting the 2% of total fat objective. The question is, why are other countries – and the EU itself – not following these pioneers?
Why do we still find these fats in our food?
The answer is uncertain. What is certain however is that trans fats were brought in during the 1950s as an alternative to animal fats. It was believed that the content of saturated fat in animal products made them less healthy. This advice, which led to the reduction of saturated fat consumption and the rise of trans fat consumption, has been shown to be a colossal mistake. In retrospect, such irony. But the functional properties of partially hydrogenated oils made them very popular with agribusiness companies.
Choosing healthy alternatives
With results as significant as those observed in Denmark, where a recent study showed that cardiovascular health improved more quickly after the measures against trans fats were taken, compared to that of the average in OECD countries, Europe must take the matter in its own hands. For ten years now, many European countries have opted for a restriction of the use of partially hydrogenated oils, pushing towards healthy, natural fats. These include palm oil, which is an entirely rational choice, though often unfairly demonised in the media. Naturally semi-solid at room temperature, it requires no transformation or hydrogenation to be usable by the industry. Its functional properties give it a clear advantage over other less saturated oils, which must be processed. In addition, it contains absolutely no GMOs.
Moreover, and this is probably the most important point, any effort towards the reduction (or elimination) of the consumption of trans fats is a step in the right direction. Several serious studies were able to show that substituting it with saturated or unsaturated fatty acids in human diet represented significant progress.
As for the still-active debate about the impact of saturated fatty acids on health, this is an outdated 50-year old dogma, which is contradicted by dozens of studies. Even for those laggards who have not quite accepted this new paradigm, one certainty remains: unlike saturated fats, trans fats are unanimously recognised as dangerous. The European Parliament’s report is welcome: it needs to be not just words, but a spur to action for all of us across Europe.