Trans fat labels seen misleading on beef, lamb, dairy

Retail foods’ nutritional labels haven’t yet caught up with the possible benefits of the natural trans fats found in beef, lamb and dairy goods, an Alberta nutritional scientist warns.

“Right now, in Canada and the U.S., a substantial portion of natural trans fats content is included in the nutrition label trans fats calculation, which is misleading for the consumer,” Spencer Proctor, an associate professor in agriculture, food and nutritional science at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said in a release.

“We need a reset in our approach to reflect what the new science is telling us.”

Proctor, director of the U of A’s Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory, recently helped run an international scientific review which found the natural trans fats produced by ruminant animals such as dairy and beef cattle “are not detrimental to health.”

Rather, they show “significant positive health effects, and some evidence even links these natural trans fats to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer,” the university said.

The review outlined how naturally-occurring trans fat, such as in meats and dairy, carries a different fatty acid profile than industrial trans fat, a component of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils which have been “highly associated with cholesterol and coronary heart disease.”

“A change in how trans fat information is presented on nutrition labels would be a huge step forward” in lifting the negative reputation now piled onto all trans fats, regardless of source, said Proctor.

For example, he said, in some countries in Europe, natural trans fat isn’t included in the nutrition label calculation. Separate listings for industrial trans fats and natural trans fats may also be helpful, he said.

Plans for new studies are “gaining momentum” to further investigate the health implications of natural ruminant-derived trans fats, given the evidence base mined from studies cited in the review, the U of A said last week.


The review — whose authors also include Benoit Lamarche of the Institute on Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods at Laval University in Quebec City, plus experts from the U.S., France and Denmark — looked at epidemiological and clinical studies to see if intake of ruminant trans fatty acid (rTFA) had different effects on people’s risk for cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

“Despite the recognition that some rTFA may elicit differential biological effects, the data to date have not been sufficiently comprehensive,” the researchers wrote in their review, published in the July issue of the journal Advances in Nutrition.

“Many of the clinical studies that have investigated the effects of rTFA on markers of cardiovascular risk have not been adequately powered,” they noted. “In addition, many studies have used doses of rTFA that are not realistically attainable via diet; the effect of rTFA in amounts that are commonly consumed in the diet remains unclear.”

Data from experimental models suggest rTFA may “beneficially” affect risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, but further research is needed on the ruminant fats’ exact effects, the researchers wrote.

Proctor, for one, is heading a program which was recently approved for a $1 million research grant from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) to further this line of study over the next several years, the U of A said in its release.

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