Avoid foods with trans fat during pandemic: Experts

Mohammad Al Amin

30 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Health experts have advised people to avoid foods with saturated fat and excessive trans fat during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as the intake of these foods increases the risk of heart diseases.

“During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, people should eat balanced diet, including fruits, foods with vitamins like D and C and milk in a bid to boost the immune system. They also should avoid foods with saturated fat and excessive trans-fatty acid,” Prof Dr Ahmedul Kabir, principal of Mugda Medical College, told the Daily Sun.

According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), 756,955 infections and 11,393 deaths have been registered from coronavirus in the country as of Thursday since first three cases were reported on March 8 last year and the first death was recorded 10 days later.

Both deaths and infections from coronavirus started to decline from the first week of July last year and the fall continued till the first week of March this year.

However, the numbers started to rise from March 10 and the country is now battling a deadly 2nd wave of the virus.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque has feared that there might be a 3rd wave if people do not follow recommended heath guidelines properly.

“Avoid industrially produced trans fat. These are often found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads,” the World Health Organization (WHO) says in its advice.

“Consume unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, soy, canola, sunflower and corn oils) rather than saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard),” it added.

The health experts have advised people to avoid food high in saturated fat and trans fat that increases the likelihood of heart diseases as people with cardiac problems carry a high risk of Covid-19 infections.

“Consuming excessive trans fat increases the risk of heart diseases. So, people should avoid eating foods with trans fat during this coronavirus pandemic,” Prof Sohel Reza Choudhury, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Research at the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute (NHFHRI), told the Daily Sun.

 The experts said industrially produced trans fat, known as dalda or bonospoti ghee in local markets, is a silent toxic killer. The high level of trans fat in food increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduces good cholesterol (HDL) in the human body.

Intake of excessive levels of trans fat can cause plaque in blood vessels, disrupting the flow of blood and leading to early heart attacks, resulting in premature deaths.

In its report titled “WHO Report on Global Trans fat Elimination 2020” published on September 9 last year, the WHO said two thirds of the deaths from the Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) due to consumption of trans fat occur in 15 countries, with Bangladesh being one of them.

 The burden of deaths from CHD due to trans fat intake in Bangladesh is 4.41 per cent, it added.

Experts said CHD and deaths from CHDs due to the consumption of trans fat are preventable, but in spite of the global progress in eliminating trans fat, such deaths still continue.         

A study recently conducted by the NHFHRI has found that about 92 percent of sampled partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) brands in Dhaka city were containing trans-fatty acid (TFA) at a much higher level than the 2 per cent one set by WHO.

The analysis of the samples even showed a staggering high concentration of TFA with a maximum 20.9g per 100 grams, which is more than 10 times the WHO-set threshold.

The WHO has set a global target of eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply chain by 2023.

Different organisations, including research and advocacy body PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress), have urged the authorities concerned to limit trans fat to 2 per cent and speedy implementation of a policy in this regard.

Health experts said the elimination of trans fat from the food supply is one of the priority targets of the WHO in the 2019-2023 period as the organisation recommends that the 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).

In order to safeguard public health, the draft regulations on "Limiting Trans Fatty Acid in Food Products Regulations, 2021," have been uploaded on the website of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority in March for public consultation.

Morshed Ahmed, head of the Technical Committee on Trans Fat and member of BFSA, said, "The World Health Organization has called upon all member countries to regulate trans fat within 2023. We’ve formulated the regulations keeping that target in mind.”