It took two years to reach the conclusion in the headline. But in a "lesser of two evils" scenario, a panel of experts concluded that, while polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats are the best replacements, a saturated fat is preferable to a trans fat in terms of cardiovascular disease risk.
A multidisciplinary panel of nutrition and clinical experts convened in late 2008 to review the science around possible solutions for replacement of trans fat and to discuss the implications for food manufacturers. "The group was comprised of individuals with very differing opinions, [so] the consensus was not actually reached until late 2009," said a spokesperson. "There were many smaller meetings and phone calls while the statement was nuanced and finally agreed upon by all involved. As you know, the issue of trans fat replacement (saturated versus polys and monos, and palmitic versus stearic) is hotly debated, and it was discussed vigorously by all involved."
So it wasn't until earlier this year that the consensus statement was released: "Whenever possible, trans fats should be replaced with a polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat. However, when a saturated fat is needed for functionality, it can be expected that overall cardiovascular disease risk would be improved compared to trans fats."
The panelists also explored other considerations in replacing trans fats, including how two saturated fat replacement solutions, palmitic acid and stearic acid, exert different effects on markers Participants of the roundtable are in the web version of this story, but they include medical doctors and high-profile nutrition professors.
The panelists were:
- George Blackburn, MD - Associate Professor of Surgery and Nutrition, Associate Director of the Division of Nutrition, and first incumbent of the S. Daniel Abraham chair in Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School
- Margo Denke, MD – formerly of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Center for Human Nutrition; panel member on the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults convened by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
- Richard Feinman, PhD of the State University of New York Downstate; director of the Nutrition & Metabolism Society and co-editor in chief of the Open Access online journal, Nutrition & Metabolism
- Christopher Gardner, PhD - associate research professor in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University and faculty in the Stanford Prevention Research Center
- KC Hayes, DVM, Ph.D., professor of biology (nutrition) and director of Foster Biomedical Research Laboratory and Animal Resources at Brandeis University
- Michael McBurney, PhD, FACN – formerly from Texas A&M's department of nutrition and food science and Kellogg Company
- Jeff Volek, PhD - associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology with an adjunct appointment in the Nutritional Sciences at the University of Connecticut.