Banning trans fats in Britain would save lives, according to new research.
The artificial fat is used to improve the taste, texture and shelf-life of processed foods, although trans fats also occur naturally in dairy such as whole milk, and some meats.
New research suggests banning the fats from processed foods could save thousands of lives across the UK every year.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), experts said around 7,200 deaths from heart disease could be prevented in England over the next five years if the artificial fats were banned.
Other experts questioned this figure.
At the moment, there is no legal requirement to remove trans fats from foods. Some manufacturers have pledged a commitment to working towards removing trans fats through the Government’s responsibility deal.
There are also no legal requirements for food manufacturers to label trans fats. Consumers are advised to check ingredients lists for hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Experts behind the study, including from Oxford University and the Department of Public Health and Policy at Liverpool University, said voluntary commitments from industry did not go far enough and it was time for “decisive action”.
Higher intake of these fats is linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and death. Poorer families are more likely to consume trans fats.
Dr Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said it was clear that artificially-manufactured trans fats, “whose use only benefits the food industry”, increase the risk of heart disease.
“The bottom line from this study is that a ban on trans fats would save a significant number of lives (in the thousands, not hundreds) and actually save public money,” he said.
“This does not even account for the emotional costs to patients and families who have suffered the effects of heart disease.”
Christine Williams, professor of human nutrition at the University of Reading, said total trans fat intake in the UK was now averaging 0.6 per cent of energy, half of the figure in 2001.