Trans fats, also referred to as partially hydrogenated oils have been associated with cardiovascular diseases. They have been popularly used in preparation of processed foods because of their beneficial effects on them.
But now, they have been proven to play an instrumental role in the development of several health problems including various chronic disease conditions
such as coronary heart diseases, fetal and infant neurodevelopment and growth and childhood allergies.
Back in the year 2003, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had authorized trans-fats to be equal to or more than 0.5 g should be listed on the food labelling. In the year 2004, World Health Organization (WHO) issued a release stating recommendations on the limits for the daily intake on the trans-fat.
Role of Trans-Fats
Scientists claim that trans-fats are the worst fats as they have no health benefits. They are used in the formation of processed foods and in restaurants with an aim to improve the texture, flavor and the shelf life of food. It has the ability to increase the bad LDL cholesterol
and also reduce the good cholesterol making it one of the most prevalent causes of heart disease leading to death in the United States.
Trans-fats are the worst fats for your heart, even worse than saturated fats thus contributing to heart diseases. The most popular foods which contain trans-fats are pie crusts, biscuits, microwave popcorn, coffee creamers, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines. Some smaller restaurants may also be using trans-fats for frying.
The use of trans-fats have been associated with many disorders such as those related to cardiovascular diseases, increased risk of breast cancer
, increased risk of colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, interference with essential fatty acids, and allergy. It has been suggested that there is an increased risk of the development of type II diabetes with trans-fatty acid consumption. A positive association between the use of trans-fats and other chronic diseases such as asthma, allergic cold and asthmatic eczema has also been reported.
The consumption of trans-fat increases the abdominal fat deposits leading to clinically overweight individuals, even though the caloric intake is similar as compared with other fats. Trans-fats have been one of the major dietary reasons for precipitation of heart diseases such as coronary artery diseases
, heart attacks and strokes.
Trans Fats in Indian Context
In India, a lot of trans-fats are being consumed in the form of hydrogenated oils such as 'Vanaspati.' In the past, saturated fats were considered to be the main reason behind heart diseases but today it is a well-known fact that trans-fats are the primary factors leading to heart diseases. In rural and urban India, the consumption of trans-fats has been stated to be around 20 gm and 30 gm per day, respectively. Trans-fats are present in sweets, chocolates, spreads, soups, salad dressings and snacks.
FDA's Mandate on Phasing out Trans-Fat
In the recent past, different municipal and state governments working in tandem with food companies, merged best practices by integrating public health, law and the food industry and decided to independently phase out trans-fat in their food products. Last week, the FDA mandated that food companies will have to phase out the use of artificial trans-fat completely within three years. This step is intended to alleviate the risk of coronary heart diseases and prevent a large number of fatal heart attacks occurring every year.
FDA report states that between 2003 and 2012, the consumption of trans-fats has gone down by almost 78% because the companies have started using healthy oils in food by replacing the trans-fats. Even with this reduction, those trans-fats which are still remaining in the food supply pose a grave concern for the public health.
In 2013, FDA removed trans-fats from the "generally recognized as safe" category of the agency which even included a large number of additives that were added to foods without the review of FDA. Finally, last week FDA has given a three-year deadline to the food companies to phase out the trans-fats completely. The time has been given to the companies and food manufacturers to place petitions to allow the use of such additives in food products. The companies can either reformulate their products by substituting trans-fats or file petitions for the specific use of trans-fats in their preparations. After the end of three years, these companies will not be able to use trans-fats in their preparations without specific permission from FDA.
It has been estimated that with this phasing out of trans-fats can prevent almost 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 associated deaths each year. It will also put a stop to the use of low fat cookies which were promoted as low calorie foods but are actually filled with high amounts of trans-fats and sugars. This initiative can very well be claimed to be a 'ground breaking' step as it will lead to healthier outcomes. According to the American Public Health Association, here is no "safe level" of trans-fats and hence this initiative of FDA will definitely lead to healthier lifestyles and dietary approaches.
Additionally, a comparative study was on the benefits and costs of the FDA's ban on artificial trans-fats revealed that it is a sensible approach from the aspect of achieving economic efficiency. Phasing out trans-fats may cost businesses up to a staggering $14 billion but it can save health costs from $117 billion to $242 billion.
What Should the Consumer Do?
Since trans-fatty acids are directly correlated with an increased risk in the cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases, they should be excluded from the diet. Consumers should take low fat food comprising of vegetables and fruits to avoid risk of chronic diseases. They should get authentic information and proper understanding from health care centers, health care providers and food companies about the health effects of trans-fats. They should know about the foods containing trans-fats and gather information regarding use of healthy fats in cooking.