Hazards of Trans-fats in Foods



    • WHO cautions nearly 5 billion people are at risk for heart disease owing to exposure to Trans-fats.


    • Recently, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that nearly 5 billion people worldwide remain unprotected from harmful trans fats, which can increase their risk of heart disease and death.
    • WHO first called for the global elimination of industrially produced trans-fats in 2018, with a target for elimination set for 2023.
    • Denmark became the first country to ban trans fats in 2003, followed by Chile and Switzerland in the next five years.

    Key Takeaways

    • Trans fats are commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils, and spreads and are responsible for up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year.
    • Nine of the 16 countries with the highest estimated proportion of coronary heart disease deaths caused by trans fat intake do not have a best-practice policy.
    • While nearly 43 countries are now implementing policies for tackling trans fats in food, this still leaves 5 billion people at risk, with the global goal for total elimination in 2023 unattainable at this time.
    • Trans fats are commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils, and spreads and are responsible for up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year.

    What are Trans-fats?

    • About:
      • Trans fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, are a type of unsaturated fat that occurs naturally in small amounts in some animal-based foods.
      • These are most commonly produced industrially by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to make it more solid through a process called hydrogenation. 
      • Trans fats raise the bad cholesterol i.e., very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-c) besides lowering the good cholesterol which are high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-c) in our body. 
      • Prolonged consumption of trans fats have risks including heart diseases, overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancers.
    • Types of trans-fats based on Source:
      • Natural trans-fats: These are also called ruminant trans fats, as they are present in small quantities in meat and dairy products obtained from ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and cattle. 
        • These types of trans fat are not generally considered harmful.
      • Artificial trans fats: These are also called industrial trans fat as they are manufactured industrially by a chemical process of partial hydrogenation or thermal treatments of edible oils containing unsaturated fatty acids, e.g. refining of vegetable oils and during the process of frying. 
        • They are generally considered harmful and are present in large quantities in partially hydrogenated vegetable fats (vanaspati, margarine and bakery shortenings). 

    Why are trans fats used in India?

    • Cost-effectiveness: Trans fats are cheaper than other types of fats and oils, making them an attractive option for food manufacturers and restaurateurs looking to cut costs.
    • Shelf life: It can help increase the shelf life of foods, making them a popular choice for packaged foods and baked goods that need to have a longer shelf life.
    • Cooking characteristics: These have a high smoke point, which makes them suitable for deep frying and other high-heat cooking methods like pastries and fried foods more flavourful and crispier.
    • Lack of awareness: Many people in India may not be aware of the negative health effects of trans fats, and therefore may not make an effort to avoid them in their diet.
    • Limited regulations: India has not implemented strict regulations on the use of trans fats in food, unlike some other countries, which may make it easier for food manufacturers to use them.

    What are the hazards of using trans-fats in foods?

    • Negative effects on heart health: Trans fats can raise levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
    • Increased risk of other chronic diseases: Consuming trans fats can also increase the risk of other chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other inflammatory diseases.
    • Adverse effects on brain function and the immune system: Studies have shown that a diet high in trans fats can negatively impact cognitive function and negatively affect the immune system.
    • Limited nutritional value: Trans fats provide no nutritional value and can displace healthier fats in the diet.
    • Cost to the healthcare system: The negative health effects of trans fats can put a strain on healthcare systems, as the treatment and management of the conditions they contribute to can be costly.
    • Limited regulations: Due to lack of effective regulations to limit the use of trans fats in food, it becomes  harder for consumers to avoid them in their diet.
    • Contributes to obesity: Trans fats have been linked to weight gain, obesity and are considered a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.

    Government steps to remove trans-fats in India

    • Freedom from Trans Fat @75: Recognizing the health hazards associated with consumption of industrial trans fats, Food Safety and Standards Authority(FSSAI) employed two-pronged strategies to eliminate trans fat from the diet in a phased manner by 2022.
    • Regulation: On the supply side, FSSAI has notified several crucial regulations to regulate trans fat in industrial products, encouraging the edible oil industry and food business operators to eliminate trans fat from their products. 
      • The FSSAI has capped the amount of trans fatty acids (TFA) in oils and fats to 3% for 2021 and 2% by 2022 from the current permissible limit of 5% through an amendment to the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations.
    • “Heart Attack Rewind” campaign: On the demand side, FSSAI has launched a mass media campaign which is a 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) with the aim to create awareness about the harmful effects of trans fat by,
    • REPLACE: In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for the elimination of industrially produced trans fats by 2023 and released a guide called ‘REPLACE’ to help countries frame policies.
    • Capping the limit: India’s FSSAI imposed a cap of 10% on trans fats in oils and fats in 2011, which was revised to 5% in 2015.
    • Eat right movement: It is a large-scale effort to transform the country’s food system in order to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable food for all Indians through the ‘Eat Right India’ movement.
    • Green Purple initiative: It is a 6-month programme teaches trans-fat free cooking by using less sodium (salt) and certifies the chefs by guiding them on sustainable cooking methods and food safety legal requirements. 
    • Trans Fat-Free logo: It was launched by FSSAI in 2019 which allows food sector establishments such as manufacturers and restaurants which produce foods with less than 0.2g/100g trans fat to use this “Trans-fat free” logo on their products and at their outlets as well.

    What more can be done to eliminate the use of trans fats in food?

    • Implement regulations: Governments can create regulations to limit the use of trans fats in food by setting maximum limits for the amount of trans fats that can be present in food products or by banning partially hydrogenated oils (a major source of trans fats) in food.
    • Increase public awareness: Education campaigns can be used to inform the public about the negative health effects of trans fats and how to identify and avoid them in their diet.
    • Develop alternatives: Researchers and food scientists can work on developing alternatives to trans fats that can provide the same functionality in food without the negative health effects.
    • Encourage the food industry to reformulate: Food manufacturers can be encouraged to reformulate their products to reduce or eliminate trans fats.
    • Promote healthy eating: Encourage people to eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and low in saturated and trans fats.
    • Designation as sin good: Government can increase taxes on products that have trans fats, to discourage their use and consumption
    • Positive incentives: Government can incentivize food manufacturers who produce food with low or no trans fats. 

     Source: IE