Excessive Use of Trans Fat in Food

No steps to save lives

Mohammad Al Amin

17 November, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Despite the fact that trans fat consumption above the permissible limit is  the  key reason for different deadly diseases like cardiovascular, stroke and the like, there is still no guideline in the country on how much one should take in the unsaturated fat.   

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has fixed the consumtion level of trans fat but Bangladesh is yet to frame guideline in this regard,  Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) chairman Syeda Sarwar Jahan said on Monday.

Mentioning that the trans fat issue is new in the country, she said: “We have sent samples of edible oil of six brands and some other foods  to the laboratory to carry out test to identify how much trans fat is there. After getting the results, we will take decision on  setting  the standard.”

However, there are no rules or regulations about protecting the standard of foods from the harmful effect of trans fat while Food Safety (Labeling) Regulations, 2017 of Bangladesh Food Safety Act 2013 has kept the issue of inscribing the level of using trans fat in food  packaging as ‘optional’.

BFSA sources said a survey has been conducted by the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute (NHFHRI) to find out the level of unsaturated fat in different foods in the country. Prof Sohel Reza Choudhury, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Research of NHFHRI, said: “We conducted a study to find out trans fat level in different foods made by partially hydrogenated oil and deep fried foods. We will disseminate the report within the month of December.”

According to SM Ishaq Ali, director (Standard) of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), “If we get directives from the Health Ministry on limiting trans fat in foods, we will revise the standard.”

There is no specific information about how much trans fat a person in Bangladesh takes on average.

A research conducted on biscuits from 12 different bakeries in Dhaka in 2015 found that they contain 5 to 39 percent of trans fat which overwhelmingly exceeds the WHO recommended level of less than 2 percent of total fat.

“The Bangladesh government should make rules to control the use of excessive trans fat in foods in a bid to achieve the WHO world target of bringing down consumption of trans fat to below two percent by 2023,” Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, country coordinator of Global Health Advocacy Incubator Bangladesh told daily sun.

ABM Zubair, Executive Director of PROGGAA, also emphasized making rules about using trans fat in foods by the government immediately.

A report released by the WHO said in 2010, approximately 8,000 deaths were attributable to high TFA [trans fatty acid] intake, and mean TFA intake was 2.4 percent of total energy intake.

Bangladesh does not follow the international best practice when it comes to regulating the amount of harmful and unnecessary trans fat in food, WHO concluded in its first-ever global annual report on trans fat elimination, released recently at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Bangladesh is looking at the Indian model of a progressive reduction in permissible trans fat, as opposed to a complete ban, WHO said in its report. India is considering lowering its 5 percent trans fat limit to 2 percent by 2022, but this limit only applies to fats and oils – not foods.

“Thousands of lives are threatened by the continued and unnecessary presence of trans fat in our food. I urge BSTI and BFSA to cap trans fat in all foods at 2 percent of total fat content,” said National Professor Brig (retd) Abdul Malik, founder and president of National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh.

The WHO released a set of modules to help the countries implement REPLACE, the action package launched a year ago to eliminate industrially produced trans-fat from the food supply by 2023.

It suggests to legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat and create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fat.

According to health scientists, trans fat, or trans fatty acids, are unsaturated fatty acids that come from either natural or industrial sources. Naturally occurring trans fat comes from products, derived from ruminant animals, like milk, butter, ghee, beef, mutton and are less harmful if consumed in moderation.

Industrially produced trans fats is formed during hydrogenation of vegetable oil like production of butter substitutes such as margarine and semi-solid fats with longer shelf-life, for example, daldha (vanaspati) used for producing commercially processed foods including bakery items, they said.

According to a situational analysis report of NHFHRI, “The risk of dying from heart disease is estimated to be 23 percent higher when two percent of the daily energy intake is in the form of trans fat. Globally, more than 500,000 deaths in 2010 were attributed to increased intake of trans fat.”

The health experts said the elimination of trans fat from the food supply is one of the priority targets of the WHO in 2019-2023 period as the organisation recommends that total trans fat intake be limited to less than one percent of total energy intake (less than 2.2 gram per day in a 2,000-calorie diet).

According to NHFHRI, most of the demand for edible oil in Bangladesh is met through the import of palm and soya oil.

The NHFHRI observed that it is high time that the authorities concerned formulated national law to regulate the permissible quantity of trans fat in food or ingredients.