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NZ leads the way with trans fat-free margarine

NZ leads the way with trans fat-free margarine

New Zealanders are among the first in the world to have access to a wide variety of margarines and reduced fat spreads with negligible levels of trans fat.

Manufacturers have embraced the Heart Foundation’s mission to virtually eliminate harmful trans fat from margarines and spreads, despite challenges involved in reformulating their products.

More than 20 Tick-approved margarines and spreads on supermarket shelves now contain a maximum of just one per cent of total fat as trans fat, with several manufacturers updating shortly. This is half the maximum level allowed by Denmark, one of the few governments to take a hard line on trans fats.

Margarine and spreads is just one of 18 Tick food categories that have tough standards for trans fat.

Trans fats can occur in vegetable oils as a result of industrial processing. These oils are then often used in margarines, spreads and other manufactured products like biscuits, cakes and pastry items.

Over recent years, scientific research has increasingly shown that gram for gram, these industrially produced trans fats are more harmful to health than saturated fat. Saturated fat increases ‘bad’ cholesterol, but trans fat has a double impact, both increasing ‘bad’ cholesterol and lowering ‘good’ cholesterol.

Ian Mathieson, manager of the Heart Foundation Tick Programme, said the number of margarines and spreads meeting the new Tick standards is a significant achievement, and most importantly, a major nutritional improvement for New Zealanders.

“Minimising the trans fat levels in margarines and spreads was probably the toughest challenge we’ve ever set food companies, as it required significant changes and costs to their manufacturing processes,” he said. “But when you consider the millions of tubs of margarine and spreads that are sold every month, the reductions in trans fat bring about a huge improvement in the New Zealand food supply.”

Reducing saturated fat in the food supply is also a key Tick goal, with saturated fat limits set across many food categories. As a population, Kiwis still eat significant levels of saturated fat, with butter being the largest contributor1. In fact, according to one international survey, New Zealanders rank as the highest consumers of butter in the world2, and have almost double the butter consumption of many other dairy consuming nations.

Butter contains more than 50 per cent saturated fat, but margarine with the Tick must contain less than 20 per cent saturated fat, which is why the Heart Foundation recommends shoppers choose Tick margarines or spreads instead of butter or dairy blends.

“If more New Zealanders chose margarines or spreads instead of butter, saturated fat intakes could be significantly reduced,” adds Mr Mathieson.

Margarine with the Tick not only meets trans fat and saturated fat requirements, but also has to comply with lower levels of salt, so is a healthier choice on several fronts.

There are more than 50 food categories in the Heart Foundation Tick Programme, from meat, bread and breakfast cereals, to fruit and vegetables that all qualify for the Tick. Each food category has its own specific nutrition criteria. In general, the nutrition criteria aim to reduce levels of saturated fat, trans fat and salt. They also aim to increase fibre levels in some foods and reduce energy (or kilojoules) in foods like cereal bars and flavoured milks.

The Tick is the only official food signposting guide in New Zealand that considers all the major nutrition components of a food type in one logo. “It can be difficult for busy shoppers to identify what makes a healthier choice in some food categories,” adds Mr Mathieson. “The Tick has done the hard work for you, by testing products against rigorous nutrition criteria and cutting through the clutter of other information to signpost the healthier choice.”

Other Tick food categories that have tough standards for trans fat include; breakfast cereals, cereal bars, cakes muffins and other baked products, sweet and savoury biscuits, pasta and noodles, processed grains, frozen potato products, processed vegetables, canned seafood, processed meat, poultry and meat alternatives, nut and seed spreads, vegetable oils, dips, ready meals, pies, pastries and pizzas.

How much do we eat?2
The majority of New Zealanders – 92% – use butter or margarine on their bread/crackers.

According to the last Ministry of Health National Nutrition Survey, butter is still used more than margarines:

50% of New Zealanders use butter on bread/crackers, compared with…
47% using polyunsaturated margarines
11% using a butter and margarine blend
10% using an olive oil spread
7% using a low-salt margarine
2% using unsalted butter
2% using reduced fat margarines

1Source: NZ Food: NZ People. The Ministry of Health’s 1997 National Nutrition Survey.
2Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Dairy Information Centre.


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