The UN body has released a step by step guide for the industry to eliminate trans fats from food
Trans fats are present in partially hydrogenated vegetable fats that are used to produce snacks and fried foods. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
For long, industrially-produced trans fats in food have been linked to health problems. Consumption of trans fats increases the level of bad LDL-cholesterol which is an accepted biomarker of cardiovascular diseases. It has been seen that diets high in trans fat can increase the risk of heart disease by 21 per cent and deaths by 28 per cent. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that trans fats lead to more than 500,000 deaths due to cardiovascular disease.
Though natural trans fats from dairy products are also part of diet, maximum consumption is in the form of industrially-produced trans fats. These are present in partially hydrogenated vegetable fats that are used to produce snacks and fried foods. The industry is not interested in shifting to healthier alternatives.
WHO is now rooting for completely removing trans fats from food supply by 2023. The UN body has released a step by step guide for the industry to eliminate trans fats from the food. The guide, called REPLACE, has six actions, which include a review of dietary sources of trans fats, promoting replacement with healthier fats, setting up a regulatroy framework, assessing and monitoring trans fats content in food, creating awareness and enforcing regulation.
"WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (See box).
Trans fats have already been eliminated in many developed countries. Denmark was the first country to restrict industrially-produced trans fats in food. The country has witnessed a sharp decline in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases.
India, too, is in the preliminary stage of making country trans fats-free by 2022. In a meeting held in January 2018, FSSAI planned to set up a technical group to take this forward. However, the road towards elimination has been long (see Fat of the Matter)
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WHO's recently released draft guidelines on intake of fats for adult and children recommends that an individual should not have more than 1 per cent calorie from trans fats: both industrially-produced and the ones from dairy. Less than 1 per cent translates to not even 2.2 g/day for a 2,000-calorie diet.
Recommending restrictions on consumption of dairy products would mean a huge transition from traditional diets in India where clarified butter is part of staple diet. In fact, there is a body of research which says that butter, meat and cheese provide saturated fats that are crucial for good health.
The guidelines are open for public review and comment till June 1, 2018.
Elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from global food supply is one of the priorities under WHO’s strategic plan which is on the agenda of the 71st World Health Assembly to be held between May 21 and May 26 in Geneva. Elimination would also help the world meet Sustainable Development Goals which has set targets to reduce premature death from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030.
- REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
- Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
- Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.
- Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans-fat consumption in the population.
- Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.
- Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.
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