Trans fats: All “you need” to knowMarch 18, 2007
Singapore’s first public forum on trans fats, presented today (March 17) by the Health Promotion Board and Consumers’ Association, was titled “Trans fats: All you need to know”.
I highlight and emphasise the phrase “you need” because, it seems to me, the organisers have decided that we need to know just a little.
I thought a more appropriate theme for the forum should have been “Trans fats: All there is to know.”
But that wasn’t the case. Saltwetfish, who was seated next to me (and we met for the first time) at the forum, was expecting an update on the trans fat scene around the world. Nothing of that sort was presented.
Instead, the first two presentations were… yawn!… just the usual stuffs.
The first speaker was Mr Lim Meng Thiam, a youngish dietician from the HPB. He simply repeated what his colleagues so far been saying ad nauseum in the MSM (main stream media):
- trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol
- saturated fats are also bad
- WHO (World Health Organisation) says to limit trans fats to 2 grams per day
- trans fats are not a big problem in Singapore
- saturated fats are actually a bigger problem
- polyunsaturated fats are good
- choose soft margarine over hard margarine or butter…
Ah so! How very enlightening. And oh yes, if you wish to be enlightened further, don’t forget to visit the HPB website (where All about trans fats is summarised into just over 700 words.)
Sure! Let’s all visit the HPB website and give them millions of clicks, so that the website will be declared a huge success and the people there will feel justified to receive their salary increases and maybe even be rewarded with big fat bonuses.
Sorry if I sound overly negative. But I did not expect much from the presentation and got nothing out of it.
And pardom a bit of self-promotion here. If you truly, really, sincerely wish to know a lot more about trans fat, visit my website: www.stop-trans-fat.com.
Second speaker was Ms Diana Lee from the Food Control Division, Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority. She was very matter of fact and she basically listed out all the things that must be found on a food label – the name and description of the product, ingredients, expiry date, nutrition information for products that make nutrition claims… and so on.
But at least I did learn one or two things new from her, particularly the fact that there are three food additives that must be declared:
- Tartrazine, an artificial colouring that may also be declared as E102 or Yellow #5
- Aspartame, the artificial sweetener, as it contains phenylanaline – a substance that some people are allergic to
- Royal jelly, apparently also because some people are allergic to it
I will be commenting on this is another post. Watch this blog. (March 18 update: Blog posted, click here to read.)
The third speaker, Mr Wong Mong Hong, Deputy President, Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association, was surprisingly the most enlightening – even though I did not agree with everything that he said, at least he said quite a few things that were not often mentioned or not widely known.
I say surprisingly because I had expected him to do a sales pitch for the food industry, saying how wonderful food producers have been in trying to reduce trans fats.
But no. His was not a sales talk, but actually fairly educational.
First, he qualified himself by saying that whatever he says is based on medical science, and that medical science changes, depending on the state of current knowledge. “So don’t take it as the Bible,” he advised.
As an example, he said he grew up believing that saturated fats were bad and polyunsaturated oils were good. But in the course of his work – he had been involved in the edible oils industry for 36 years, if I heard it correctly – he realised that polyunsaturated oils also cause health problems – because they are highly reactive and spoil easily.
Ah! At least, here is something that might be new to people who all along had been depending on the HPB as their main source of information and enlightenment.
In fact, Mr Wong contradicted the dietician from the HPB, who very simplistically classified saturated fats as “bad” and polyunsaturated oils as “good”.
But… one must not contradict one’s host too much. And so Mr Wong concluded that “the worst thing” is neither saturated fat, nor trans fat, but the combination of saturated fat with trans fat and cholesterol – which he named as the “third devil”.
Sorry I fully disagree with this. To me, the real devils are the dieticians, nutritionists, doctors, health authorities and other so-called experts who accept, at face value, the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol are harmful, without looking deeper into the issue to discover that they are actually beneficial to health!
The most significant revelation from Mr Wong, however, is this:
There is no hydrogenation plant in Singapore or Malaysia. The margarine / shortening made here and in Malaysia are not hydrogenated but mostly made by a different process called factorisation.
(Not totally clear what that involves, will confirm and report later. Also, must check brands like Planta margarine and see whether it says hydrogenated. Update: Oops! The process is called fractionation, not fractorisation.)
Another lesser known fact from Mr Wong:
Regular cooking oils like palm, canola, etc also contain trans fats that are formed during the process of refining and deodorisation. This is mentioned in Udo Erasmus’ book, Fats that kill Fats that heal and also in some of the ariticles by Mary Enig. But I don’t think many people know this.
However, Mr Wong also provided some figures. For palm oil, it is around 0.5 percent. For oils like canola, it is as high as 3 or 4 percent. The difference is due to the fact that palm oil is quite highly saturated (about 50 percent) and so there is not a lot of polyunsaturated oils to hydrogenate. In contrast, canola oil is highly polyunsaturated and so trans fats form more easily.
Questions and Answers time after the three presentations were slightly more interesting. But some of the more pertinent questions (eg those relating to government policy on trans fat labelling) were not answered satisfactorily. More reports on that later.
Overall, I would rate the forum maybe 3/10… What’s your rating Saltwetfish and others present?
But here and there there were a few points of interest. Rather than put them all here in one long post, I will discuss them over the next few days.
Watch this blog.