The health impact of industrial interesterification of dietary fats

Lead Research Organisation: Quadram Institute Bioscience
Department Name: Contracts

Abstract

Dietary fat is an important part of our diet, however, trans and saturated fats are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. One way to reduce these fats is to use interesterified (IE) fat into foods such as spreads and bakery products. Interesterification changes the structure of the fat without changing the proportion of fatty acids. This results in a harder fat than the natural form of the vegetable oils, which can replace butter and lard (high in saturated fat) and partially hydrogenated fats (high in trans fat).
Despite the global use of IE fats in foods, their health effects have not been investigated. Initial research found that commonly consumed IE fats lead to differences in blood fat levels compared to no-IE fats. Large rises in blood fats after meals are an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We will investigate the cardiovascular health effects of typically consumed IE fats to address this crucial gap in scientific evidence. We will use an existing UK database of dietary intakes in a large nationally representative study population, together with information on IE fat contents of foods to estimate dietary intakes of IE fats in the UK. We will use this information to predict what would happen to blood fats if current intakes of IE fats were replaced by fats like butter and lard. We will then undertake a detailed human study to assess the effects of the most commonly consumed IE fat, compared to the non-IE equivalents. We will explore the biological reasons why the amount of fat in the blood is different after consuming these fats by studying differences in digestion, absorption and the fate of the fats once they are in the blood stream. A second human study will determine whether blends of different proportions of these fats, i.e. the proportions that are most commonly consumed in products such as “healthier” spreads and bakery fats, have any effects on the factors that influence risk of cardiovascular disease.

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