BMJ Open 4:e005218 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005218
  • Health policy
    • Research

Tracing artificial trans fat in popular foods in Europe: a market basket investigation

  1. Jørn Dyerberg1
  1. 1Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Copenhagen University Hospital, Gentofte, Hellerup, Denmark
  2. 2Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, Faculty of Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Steen Stender; steen.stender{at}
  • Received 7 March 2014
  • Revised 23 April 2014
  • Accepted 29 April 2014
  • Published 20 May 2014


Objective To minimise the intake of industrial artificial trans fat (I-TF), nearly all European countries rely on food producers to voluntarily reduce the I-TF content in food. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of this strategy on I-TF content in prepackaged biscuits/cakes/wafers in 2012–2013 in 20 European countries.

Design The I-TF content was assessed in a market basket investigation. Three large supermarkets were visited in each capital, and in some countries, three additional ethnic shops were included.

Results A total of 598 samples of biscuits/cakes/wafers with ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable fat’ or a similar term high on the list of ingredients were analysed, 312 products had more than 2% of fat as I-TF, exceeding the legislatively determined I-TF limit in Austria and Denmark; the mean (SD) was 19 (7)%. In seven countries, no I-TF was found, whereas nine predominantly Eastern European countries had products with very high I-TF content, and the remaining four countries had intermediate levels. Of the five countries that were examined using the same procedure as in 2006, three had unchanged I-TF levels in 2013, and two had lower levels. The 18 small ethnic shops examined in six Western European countries sold 83 products. The mean (SD) was 23 (12)% of the fat as I-TF, all imported from countries in Balkan. In Sweden, this type of food imported from Balkan was also available in large supermarkets.

Conclusions The findings suggest that subgroups of the population in many countries in Europe still consume I-TF in amounts that increase their risk of coronary heart disease. Under current European Union (EU) legislation, the sale of products containing I-TF is legal but conflicts with the WHO recommendation to minimise the intake of I-TF. An EU-legislative limit on I-TF content in foods is expected to be an effective strategy to achieve this goal.

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