The World Health Organisation has called for trans fat to be eliminated from all foods by 2023. But just what is trans fat and why has it become public enemy number one? We answer all your questions.
By Siti Rohani
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared war against trans fat by releasing a set of guidelines to eventually eliminate this unhealthy ingredient by 2023.
The effort is meant to be a low-cost way for developing countries to reduce the high number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases, which has been linked to trans fat.
Learn more about this unhealthy fat and how you can avoid it.
What is trans fat?
It’s an unsaturated fat that occurs at very low levels in some meat and dairy.
However, it’s artificial trans fat, also known as trans fatty acids, that is a cause for concern.
It’s formed through an industrial process called hydrogenation, which is when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil so it becomes solid at room temperature.
It became a popular ingredient when it was first developed as it was less likely to spoil, ensuring that foods with trans fat in them have a longer shelf life.
Why is it unhealthy?
There’s evidence that trans fat, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, increases the amount of bad cholesterol while decreasing the amount of good cholesterol.
A diet high in trans fat increases the risk of heart diseases.
Where is it found?
It can be found in a lot of packaged foods and popular products, such as margarine, coffee creamer, frostings and frozen pizzas.
Will we actually see an end to trans fat?
While WHO has urged all governments to eliminate the ingredient, they have no authority to ensure it happens.
Fortunately, some countries are already taking steps. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified trans fat as not “generally recognised as safe” for use in human food in 2015, and has been steadily restricting it with the aim to remove it completely by this year.
Many western European countries are also reducing it in factory-made foods, while Denmark, Austria, Iceland and Switzerland have banned it outright.
However, there’s still a long way to go.
For example, the ingredient is widely used in South Asia where the often-inexpensive oils are repeatedly used by restaurants and street vendors.
Will eliminating trans fat really help?
Researchers have found that three years after Denmark’s trans fat ban, the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease declined by an average of 14.2 deaths per 100,000 people per year.
What can I do?
Be more aware when shopping for groceries.
Pick products that are labelled as “trans fat free” or “no trans fat”.
To be sure, check the ingredients list to ensure that there is indeed 0 grams of trans fat.
Where possible, use healthier oils like olive oil or peanut oil, and cut down on frozen foods, store-bought pastries and fried, salty snacks.