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New website helps consumers understand natural trans fats

Posted: June 14, 2012

It's time for fresh thinking on trans fats – from health recommendations, to food choices to nutrition labeling. And now there is a new website to help.

New research has unveiled that not all trans fats are created equal. A growing amount of evidence continues to suggest that industrial trans fats are indeed a major threat and should be avoided, says Dr. Spencer Proctor, Director of the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory at the University of Alberta in Canada. However, research has uncovered new knowledge of a separate family of "natural trans fats," found in meat and milk from ruminant animals, which are not harmful and may in fact have health-enhancing potential.

What's the difference? What does this mean for food choices? The new website, located at www.naturaltransfats.ca, is designed to help consumers navigate these types of questions. It will also grow to include special sections for scientists, educators, nutritionists and health professionals all updated regularly as the pioneering science in this area continues to progress.

"We are at a point with the science where there is important information to deliver to the consumer on natural trans fats and how they are different from the 'bad' trans fats they have so often heard about," says Proctor, a leading researcher on natural trans fats and a science advisor to the new website.

"The aim of the website is to help consumers, and nutrition advocates, recognize the difference between industrial and natural trans fats and the basics of what this means for their health and for making good food and dietary choices. Over time, it will also include more in-depth information for people involved in interpreting the science and providing nutritional and health advice."

Natural trans fats are a natural part of milk and meat from ruminant animals, such as dairy and beef cattle, bison, goats and sheep, says Proctor. "These fats are not a health concern as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

With trans fats in general now widely viewed as a health concern, this may be an inconvenient truth for the task of relaying simple health messages to the public, he acknowledges. But really the new knowledge should be welcome news for consumers who enjoy meat and milk products from ruminant animals. "Through efforts such as the new website it will become easier to recognize the difference between good and bad trans fats," he says.

The website it entitled "Natural Trans Fats: The Natural Choice." It includes sections on "What are They?" "Natural and Industrial" and "Your Health," along with features such as "NTF's and You," "Facts & Figures," and "NTF's News."

One unique interactive feature is a scrollable, virtual menu of foods with natural trans fats, which includes per serving information on calories, daily value and natural trans fats content.

"Currently, nutrition labels on food products do not differentiate between natural and industrial trans fats, which is a challenge for consumers who want more specific information," notes Proctor. "The interactive feature on the website is a good tool to find out which food products have natural trans fats and what level of natural trans fats they contain."

Several of the leading scientists investigating the health implications of natural trans fats presented findings at the recent 10th Congress for the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids & Lipids (ISSFAL) in Vancouver. They noted that the scientific knowledge points to the need to clearly differentiate between natural and industrial trans fats on food labels and in health recommendations. Proctor and colleagues are exploring approaches for international collaboration among researchers as well as health and food regulatory authorities to address this need.

More information on the ISSFAL progress and the latest knowledge on natural trans fats is available at www.naturaltransfats.ca.