Trans fats: All we need NOT know

March 18, 2007

My earlier report on the trans fat forum focused on some of the things that were said. But the things not said, perhaps, are more interesting. For they show what the Health Promotion Board does not think it is necessary for Singaporeans to know.

For example, Mr Lim Meng Khiam, the HPB dietician, mentioned that trans fats increase the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower the level of ‘good’ cholesterol. This has been repeated ad nauseam. What’s new?

Mr Lim completely left out the various scientific studies that link trans fats to diabetes, obesity, cancer, infertility, low birth weight in babies, and so on.

He mentioned in passing that trans fats do occur naturally, in products like milk and beef. But, until the subject was again raised during questions and answers, he never mentioned the possibility that natural trans fat might actually be beneficial to health, as opposed to artificial trans fats that are definitely harmful. (In the end, Mr Lim said the scientific studies on natural trans fats were inconclusive.)

Saltwetfish expressed his disappointment during Q&A, for he had expected an update of the international trans fats scene – what other countries were doing either to ban trans fats or to legislate compulsory labelling. That entire topic was not discussed.

If anything, Mr Lim’s presentation focused more on the harm and dangers of saturated fats than on the subject of trans fats.

Yet here, too, there were serious omissions. Mr Lim spent considerable time painting an evil picture of saturated fats and, again if not for questions from the floor, totally disregarded the fact that saturated fats are, in fact, necessary and beneficial for health.

And when he did finally address the issue, he merely acknowledged that saturated fats were needed. There was zero elaboration on the many good things that saturated fats do for the body – maintain the integrity of cell walls, boost immunity, kill bacteria, help calcium absorption, promote hormone production, help the body to store and use beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, etc.

Yet Mr Lim’s talk was titled, Get your fats right. Is it right to merely highlight the one possible harm of saturated fats (that they raise ‘bad’ cholesterol) and ignore all the goodness

On the flip side, unsaturated fats were presented by Mr Lim as being totally good. He simplistically summarised his talk saying “Bad fats are the saturated and trans fats, good fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.”

The audience had to learn from the third speaker, Mr Wong Hong Mong, Deputy President of the Singapore Food Manufacturers Association, that unsaturated fats cause their fair share of health problems – because they are highly reactive and spoil easily.

Mr Wong further revealed that regular cooking oils also contain harmful trans fats that are produced during the process of refining and deodorisation. The level ranges from about 0.5 percent for palm oil, to as high as 4 percent for oils like Canola. In other words, polyunsaturated cooking oils are likely to contain higher levels of harmful trans fats!

If not for Mr Wong and for those who asked certain pertinent questions, forum attendees would have walked away with a very inadequate, very shallow – and totally wrong – understanding about fats. Overall, the forum was a dismal letdown.

Mr Lim did remind the audience to visit the HPB website “for more information”.

But is there more information? As of today (March 18) the HPB website still has only one article on the subject, where All about trans fats is summarised in just over 700 words (about the length of this article), a lot less if the many sub-headings were not counted.

One sub-heading asked: What does trans fat do to our body? The answer is given in two short sentences about the effects on cholesterol.

Is this ALL we need to know?


If you wish to know more, much much more, about trans fats, visit my website, www.stop-trans-fat.com.


  1. A new website, cuttransfat.org is committed to the “voluntary” reduction or elimination of trans

    fats by the food industry. The site also links to numerous articles offering differing views on

    the subject. It is a quality site with lots of good information.

    The site is also compiling a list of restaurants and food chains that are actively eliminating or

    reducing trans fats in their menus.

    For more information visit http://cuttransfat.org

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