Interesterified fats: What are they and why are they used? A briefing report from the Roundtable on Interesterified Fats in Foods

S. E. Berry*, J. H. Bruce, S. Steenson, S. Stanner, J. L. Buttriss, A. Spiro, P. S. Gibson, I. Bowler, F. Dionisi, L. Farrell, A. Glass, J. A. Lovegrove, J. Nicholas, E. Peacock, S. Porter, R. P. Mensink, W. L Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Interesterification rearranges the position of fatty acids within triacylglycerols, the main component of dietary fat, altering physical properties such as the melting point and providing suitable functionality for use in a range of food applications. Interesterified (IE) fats are one of a number of alternatives which have been adopted to reformulate products to remove fats containing trans fatty acids generated during partial hydrogenation, which are known to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. The use of IE fats can also reduce the saturated fatty acid (SFA) content of the final product (e.g. up to 20% in spreads), while maintaining suitable physical properties (e.g. melt profile). A novel analysis was presented during the roundtable which combined data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2012/2013–2013/2014) with expert industry knowledge of the IE fats typically used in food products, to provide the first known estimate of population intakes of IE fats among UK children and adults. IE fats were found to contribute approximately 1% of daily energy across all ages. The major contributors to overall IE fat intakes were fat spreads (~54%) and bakery products (~22%), as well as biscuits (~8%), dairy cream alternatives (~6%) and confectionery (~6%). Increasing use of IE fats could contribute towards reducing total SFA intakes in the population, but would depend on which food products were reformulated and their frequency of consumption among sub-groups of the population. Studies comparing the effect of IE and non-IE fats on markers of lipid metabolism have not shown any consistent differences, either in the fasted or in the postprandial state, suggesting a neutral effect of IE fats on cardiovascular disease risk. However, these studies did not use the type of IE fats present in the food supply. This issue has been addressed in two studies by King's College London, which measured the postprandial response to a commercially relevant palm stearin/palm kernel (80:20) IE ‘hard stock’, although again no consistent effects of the IE fat on markers of lipid metabolism were found. Another study is currently investigating the same IE hard stock, consumed as a fat spread (blended with vegetable oil), and will measure a broader range of postprandial cardiometabolic risk factors. However, further long-term trials using commercially relevant IE fats are needed. Subsequent to the roundtable, a consumer survey of UK adults (n = 2062; aged 18+ years) suggested that there is confusion about the health effects of dietary fats/fatty acids, including trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats. This may indicate that providing evidence-based information to the public on dietary fats and health could be helpful, including the reformulation efforts of food producers and retailers to improve the fatty acid profile of some commonly consumed foods.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalNutrition Bulletin
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    The roundtable was supported by a research grant awarded by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, through the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC) programme, to King’s College London and the Quadram Institute to investigate the health impact of industrial interesterification of dietary fats. The DRINC consortium includes the following members who contribute to funding research and direct the Club's activities: Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Economic & Social Research Council; Medical Research Council; Campden BRI; Coca‐Cola; DuPont (UK) Ltd; Marks and Spencer plc; Mondelez International; The National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim); Nestle UK; PepsiCo UK Ltd; Sainsbury's; Unilever. More information is available on the BBSRC website .

    Funding Information:
    Interesterification is a means of modifying the structure and functionality of fats and oils to produce food ingredients for a range of applications, which can help to reduce levels of saturated fatty acids (SFA) and fatty acids (TFA) in some foods, by providing an alternative to the use of animal fats or partially hydrogenated oils, respectively. The use of interesterified (IE) fats has increased in recent years, as part of the ongoing reformulation initiative undertaken by food manufacturers. A 1‐day roundtable event was organised by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) and King's College London in March 2019 to discuss the use of IE fats in the food chain, current understanding as to their health effects, and recommendations for future research and communication to key stakeholders. This was arranged within the ‘Pathways to Impact’ activities of a research grant awarded to King's College London and the Quadram Institute by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC). Thought leaders from a range of fields, including public health and academia, food retail, manufacturing and technology, were invited to provide expertise and insight to the roundtable discussion. This report provides a summary of the presentations and discussions held at this roundtable meeting. trans

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2019 The Authors. Nutrition Bulletin published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Nutrition Foundation


    • cardiovascular disease
    • fat metabolism
    • interesterified fats
    • postprandial metabolism
    • saturated fatty acids
    • trans fatty acids


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