Turkish regulation limits trans fats

14 Jun 2020

Turkey has become the latest country to limit the use of industrially produced trans fats. Are manufacturers ready and what solutions exist to replace partially hydrogenated oils?

Under the regulation, published in the Official Gazette in May, foods intended for the final consumer and for retail supply may not contain more than 2 g of trans fats per 100 g of fat. Products containing trans fats cannot be marketed after 31 December 2020.

Turkish regulation limits trans fats

This limit of 2 g of trans fats per 100 g of fat is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), which praised Turkey for implementing best practice.

Trans fats occur naturally in some foods such as milk and meat but most industrially produced trans-fats in the human diet come from foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHOs). Partially hydrogenated oils are favoured by food manufacturers as they increase crispiness, extend the shelf-life of processed food products, and are flavour stable. They can be found in products such as baked goods and savoury snacks.

However, they are also harmful to health: trans fat consumption increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Turkey, and is estimated to kill more than 500,000 people globally per year, including 2,910 in Turkey, according to the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI). It called the regulation “a major win for public health in Turkey”.

This has meant a steady fall from grace for PHOs. Denmark was the first country in the world to limit their use on public health grounds in 2003 and in 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status of industrially produced trans fats. More recently, Brazil’s food safety authority ANVISA announced a ban that would take effect in 2023.

Some multinational food manufacturers have made commitments to voluntarily remove trans fats from their products. In 2018, for instance, Nestlé said 99.8% of the fats and oils it used met its policy on trans fat, which aims to remove the PHOs from all its food and drink products.

Finding the right alternative

Food suppliers have developed ingredients that can replace PHOs in a cost-effective way while retaining many of their desired characteristics. Sunflower, rapeseed or soybean oil can replace PHOs in frying applications and can also be blended with texturizers or emulsifiers to create the structure needed by food makers.

Enzymatic interesterification (EIE), which involves rearranging fatty acids to provide structure and functionality at room temperature, produces a solid fat similar to PHOs. Fully hydrogenating oils also results in a solid fat and, unlike partial hydrogenation, fully hydrogenated oils do not contain harmful trans fats.

In a price-sensitive market such as Turkey, food manufacturers may opt for competitively priced alternatives to PHOs.

A 2014 WHO report, Turkish Healthy Nutrition and Active Life Programme: An Evaluation, warned that Turkish food manufacturers were voluntarily removing PHOs from processed products and replacing them with palm oil.

“[This] is potentially the worst possible solution,” it said. “Turkey needs to ensure that substitutions for trans fats in reformulated products result in the best possible fat profile. Substitution for saturated fatty acids such as palm oil is a secondary concern faced by other countries, in that it is less harmful than trans fats but does increase the risk for cardiovascular disease; however, affordable, healthier alternatives exist, with the properties required for stability and texture.”

The WHO called on the Turkish government to persuade food operators to use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids wherever possible, particularly olive oil given that Turkey is situated in the Mediterranean basin.

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