In response to the growing concern about the health risks associated with the Trans Fatty Acids due to the use of Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (HVOs) Woolworths has announced that they are aiming to be the first South African food retailer to remove HVOs from their entire own-brand product range. With the removal of HVOs from all their freshly prepared pies, pizzas, soups, sauces, ready-made meals and party snacks they have now completed Phase 1 of the project. Trans fatty acids, often called “trans fats”, are regarded as “bad” fats, as they raise levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDLs) and lower the levels of “good” cholesterol (HDLs) in our blood contributing to increased risk of heart disease. While trans fats occur naturally in some foods – particularly animal-based foods such as dairy products and meat – they also result from the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, including those formerly common in everyday foods like solid margarines. “When the trans fat issue emerged in 2003, Woolworths embarked upon a two-pronged approach to address the issue,” explains Cecil Mitchell, Head of Food Technology at Woolworths. “In line with our Good Food Journey, we invested over R1 million in lab equipment to allow us to include the fatty acid profile on our nutritional information labelling so that our customers could make informed choices. We also began replacing HVOs with fats and oils that, in addition to containing no artificial colourants or anti-oxidants, have better fatty acid profiles.” “It is very important for us to ensure that we offer our customers foods that not only taste delicious, but food that’s better for their health. For example, we were the first South African food retailer to remove ‘added’ MSG and tartrazine from our foods. The removal of HVOs represents another milestone on our Good Food Journey,” says Woolworths Head of Foods, Julian Novak. He adds, “We are committed not only to offering our customers a wide range of top quality, delicious food choices, but to promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle.” ENDS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS What are trans fatty acids? While some trans fatty acids occur naturally in foods (particularly in dairy products and meats), most trans fatty acids are man-made fats which are more commonly known as hydrogenated oils. Naturally occurring trans fats are generally considered less harmful than man-made trans fats. Why are they considered a health risk? Research has shown that trans fatty acids contribute to raised levels of LDLs (so-called “bad” cholesterol) while at the same time lowering levels of HDLs (“good” cholesterol) in our/the blood. This significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Is it necessary to be careful when using oil in home cooking? Most oils are stable when used for food preparation at home, including in baking, as most oils have a smoking point above 220 °C. Overheating oils for prolonged periods (e.g. in chip fryers) may cause the structure of the fat molecules to change. Regardless of possible changes to fatty acid structure, deep frying of foods is not recommended as part of a prudent diet. In order to optimise the fatty acid composition of the diet, it is recommended that olive oil or other cold pressed oils and oils with higher mono unsaturated fat content such as canola oil be used in preference to high poly unsaturated oils such as sunflower oil. Is there legislation regarding trans fats? In some parts of the world the use of trans fats is being banned. For example, restaurants in New York City are not allowed to use frying oils that contain trans fats and by July 2008 will not be permitted to serve any trans fat-containing foods. By contrast manufacturers in South Africa are not required to include trans fat content on labels. Woolworths, however, has included trans fats on its nutritional information on its food packaging since 2003 and has completed the first phase of its plan to remove trans fats (other than those that are naturally occurring) from all its own-brand foods. Could you explain the Good Food Journey in a bit more detail? The Good Food Journey is the name we’ve given to our ongoing quest to offer South Africa food that’s better for our customers, better for the environment and better for the people who produce it. It encompasses everything from removing additives from our foods and offering more organic and free range choices to caring for the welfare of animals and promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle. The Good Food Journey is an integral part of our larger Good business journey, which outlines Woolworths commitment to caring for the future wellbeing of our planet and its people. Our Good business journey addresses four priorities which have been part of our heritage for more than 75 years and spells out our goals for the next five years in the areas of accelerating transformation, driving social development, protecting the environment and addressing climate change.