Newsletter -SAFETY OF OUR FOODS AND LIFE-
Japan Offspring Fund is currently investigating a large number of foods sold in Japan , to expose how much trans fat each product contains. Trans fat is strongly associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease. A decrease in trans fat consumption should be a national priority.
Over the years, Japan Offspring Fund has been fortunate to work closely with Korean consumer activists. Four videos and four of JOF's bestselling books have been translated to Korean. One of the most inspiring people is Ms. Kwang - Mo Chung at Consumers Union of Korea.
* High levels of artery-clogging trans fat in many foods
In the United States , McDonalds was forced to reduce the amount of trans-fatty acids in its French fries. By changing the oil used for the frying, the worst type of fats, so called trans-fatty acids, could be reduced by 48 percent. Trans fat is strongly associated with increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Trans fat may also lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Trans fat forms when vegetable oil is hardened to a solid form through a process called "hydrogenation."
In the United States , new rules require food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fat on all their products from January 1, 2006 . Already, some food labels are listing trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel. In Japan , consumers do not have access to any such information. Unfortunately, many consumers still believe margarine is healthier than butter. This is not the case.
In Denmark , there are strict rules about reducing trans-fatty acids in food. In March 2003, Denmark became the first country to introduce laws regulating the sale of many processed foods containing trans fat, a move that effectively bans partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fat in margarine
Japan Offspring Fund is currently investigating a large number of foods sold in Japan , to expose how much trans fat each product contains.
The worst product in Japan Offspring Fund's test was Meiji Corn Soft, which contained 12.7% trans fat. This is not acceptable. Another product, Koiwai margarine, contained 1.8% trans fat. If we follow the Danish recommendation that foods should contain less than 2% trans fat, then the Koiwai margarine actually passed the test. In our test, butter contained more than 2% trans fat, but since this is naturally occurring, and not a result of manufacturing or processing, it is not regulated. For a person who wants to avoid butter, the Koiwai margarine is an option.
Japan Offspring Fund presented the results of our tests to three companies that manufacture margarine. The three companies that we had identified as producing foods with high amounts of trans fats were Snow Brand Milk Products Co., Ltd, Unilever Japan and Meiji Milk Products Co., Ltd. We asked what they intend to do in order to improve. Snow Brand replied that they did not think it was necessary to worry about risks associated with trans fats. Unilever Japan replied that Japanese people's energy intake means there is no problem, and they also said they are closely monitoring what is happening internationally regarding regulation. Meiji Milk Products replied that JOF had “recognized an important matter”, but said they could not make any further comment at this stage.
Trans fat in other foods
Japan Offspring Fund also investigated the amount of trans fat in other food products. In our tests, the French Fries sold at McDonalds contained 4,55 gram of trans fat in a 100 gram serving. Other products that contained high amounts of trans fat were the non-dairy coffee whitener products used instead of milk or cream, sold in Japan with the brand name Sujahta and Morinaga. Pastry such as croissants or sugar rolls from bakery companies Yamazaki and Andersen also contained high amounts of trans fats in our tests.
The Japanese Food Safety Commission has stated that Japanese people eat fewer foods that contain trans fatty acids than people in other countries. However, if a Japanese consumer eats normal servings of the foods we have tested, the intake of trans fat could exceed the internationally recognized safe level by at least 3 times.
It is our strong opinion that regulations such as the case in Denmark are needed also in Japan . Research has clearly shown a link between intake of trans fat and heart disease, so a decrease in consumption should be a national priority. For children and especially for people who eat out a lot, there are reasons to be concerned about the lack of guidelines in Japan .
WHO strategy on diet
This has also been pointed out by the World Health Organization in May 2004. The WHO World Health Assembly adopted a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, which was endorsed by WHO member states (including Japan ) at the annual Health Assembly in Geneva . The strategy addresses the risk factors responsible for diseases such as obesity-related conditions, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The WHO strategy emphasizes the need to limit the consumption of both saturated fats and trans fatty acids.
The WHO Document, titled "Diet and physical activity: a public health priority" is posted at:
Advice: How to avoid trans fatty acids
In order to avoid trans fatty acids that are not indicated on the food label, please pay attention to the following:
Avoid eating large quantities of margarine, shortening and non-dairy cream (made from plant oil). Also, avoid eating processed foods that contain such sources of trans fat.
Avoid foods containing plant oil (labeled as plant oil on Japanese food labels) such as custard cream, chocolate, certain types of lacto-ice cream, and other foods with extra-thick cream.
Do not heat plant oil at high temperature while cooking, as this produces trans fatty acids.
Avoid fried processed foods from department stores and supermarkets. Usually, cheap hydrogenated oils are used to reduce cost. Oxidized oils are dangerous. Also pay attention to old oil, as well as oil that has been exposed to sunlight, and avoid such products carefully, in order to reduce unhealthy trans fat in the diet of your family and your children.
By Junichi Kowaka , Japan Offspring Fund
In May and June, 2005, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper has published a series of 15 articles about exchange between Japanese and Korean people. Unfortunately, they have ignored the consumers' issues, while in reality there has been a lot of exchange with Korean organizations.
One of the most inspiring people is Ms. Kwang - Mo Chung, a Korean lady who was working as a journalist in the 1970s. She covered important consumer issues in Japan and America , and established the Consumers Union of Korea. This group became the nucleus for spreading consumer awareness all over Korea , to a larger extent than in Japan . The way consumer issues were handled in Japan lacked behind, and there were many examples of injury and damage to consumers because of this. Japan had to learn a lot from Korea in this respect, as there was noone here with such awareness as Ms. Kwang-Mo Chung.
Over the years, Japan Offspring Fund has been fortunate to work closely with Korea . Four videos and four of JOF's bestselling books have been translated to Korean. This could also contribute to consumer awareness in Korea . For example, JOF invited Ms. Kwang-Mo Chung, in 2000, as the Consumer Union of Korea was preparing a book in Korean, adding Korean information to JOF's book, "How to avoid genetically modified foods." At that time, JOF and CUK were working together to analyze the new proposals for GM labelling.
Ms. Kwang-Mo Chung is known for stressing the importance of international cooperation between NGOs in different countries. Recently, we have visited Korea a number of times, and for example discussed the problem of dusty air emerging from vacuum cleaners. Another area of common interest is the campaign to reduce smoking in both Japan and Korea .
Photo: Ms. Kwang-Mo Chung discussing consumer issues with JOF's Junichi Kowaka at a meeting in Korea 1998
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