What Are Trans Fatty Acids – And Are You At Risk In Japan?

Known to increase the risk of heart disease, Trans Fatty Acids are substances often found in margarine and similar products. To avoid this, Denmark was the first country to regulate the labelling in order to encourage a reduced intake. Other countries have made similar efforts. In Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has stated that “the intake of Trans Fatty Acids is low” and decided to not require mandatory labelling. As for the food industry, Japanese companies have made independent efforts to reduce the levels in their products.

In 2005, Japan Offspring Fund decided to investigate the levels of Trans Fatty Acids in several different products, including margarine, shortening and coffee whiteners.

Consequently, an organically certified shortening with no Trans Fatty Acids was introduced on the market.

After Japan Offspring Fund revealed the test results of Trans Fatty Acid levels in margarines in 2005, Koiwai Margarine was sold with very low levels of Trans Fatty Acids. Other large margarine makers also found ways to reduce the levels in their products. As of 2009, it appears that consumers no longer need to worry about Trans Fatty Acids in margarine products sold in Japan.

Here in Japan, people often drink coffee with “whitener” sold under different fanciful brand names. In ordinary coffee shops, if a customer asks for milk with their coffee, the shop may supply a small plastic container with a liquid white substance. While some people are probably under the impression that this contains milk or cream, in reality it is a vegetable oil/fat based substance with emulsifiers, polysaccharides, pH regulating additives – - and partially hydrogenated oils, which is where the Trans Fatty Acids can be found.

The advantages of coffee whiteners are that they do not spoil easily, and they are also extremely cheap compared to real milk or cream (In other countries, the containers are usually labeled as being “non-dairy” but this is not required in Japan).

JOF analyzed the amount of Trans Fatty Acids in one single container of coffee whitener. The level was 0.29 gram of Trans Fatty Acids. A person who uses 3-4 containers each day should be careful as this is a very high level. Using real milk instead would be better for his or her health.

Finally, the fried potatoes at McDonald’s were found to contain 2.5 gram of Trans Fatty Acids in a medium size serving. This is very high, especially in contrast with Japan’s second largest hamburger chain, Mos Burger, where the fried potatoes contained virtually no Trans Fatty Acids at all.

It has been stated that the intake of Trans Fatty Acids is low in Japan compared to other countries. However, if certain fast foods are consumed in large amounts, then it is clear that Japanese people also consume high levels of Trans Fatty Acids, and this should be a cause for concern.

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