Unhealthy trans fat
The move is in keeping with WHO's strategic plan for 2019–2023, which aims to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat from the global food supply. Image Credit: Pexels

Abu Dhabi: By 2023, the UAE will ban trans fat that increases bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol, promotes clotting, and damages blood vessels, according to an official report. The move is in keeping with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) strategic plan for 2019–2023, which aims to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat from the global food supply, said a report made by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which was recently submitted to the Federal National Council.

The report, which was presented in response to members of the House’s questions about the government’s action to eliminate margarine and vegetable ghee, said that trans fat is considered to be the worst type of fat one can eat. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat — also called trans fatty acids — raises one’s low density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad cholesterol” and lowers high density lipoprotein (HDL) “good cholesterol”.

Hamad Al Rahoumi, a member of the House from Dubai, demanded that the UAE fast-track and enforce compliance of WHO policies and regulations on trans fat as early as possible, considering their serious impact on health.

Dr Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change, said the ministry is working with its partners to implement Federal Law No.10 of 2015 on Food Safety and its executive regulations, which includes strict controls and standards to ensure food safety throughout the food chain. The law aims to establish systems to monitor and inspect food at facilities and entry ports, creating a national food accreditation and registration system, establishing of a rapid food and feed alert system throughout the food chain, developing mechanisms for the exchange of information at the national and global levels, as well as raising community awareness of best food practices.

A diet laden with trans fat increases one’s risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women. Last year, WHO released REPLACE, a step-by-step guide for elimination of industrially-produced trans fatty acids from the global food supply.

Eliminating trans fat is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease.

Industrially-produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. But healthier alternatives can be used without affecting the taste or cost of food.

According to the report, WHO and the American Heart Association recommend a dietary pattern that achieves 10 per cent of calories from saturated fat and 1 per cent calories from trans fats, which translates to less than 22 grams of saturated fat per day; 2 grams of trans fat with a 2,000-calorie diet.

WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans fatty acids from the food supply. REPLACE provides six strategic actions to ensure the prompt, complete, and sustained elimination of industrially-produced trans fat from the food supply:

■ Review dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fat and the landscape for required policy change.

■ Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fat with healthier fat and oils.

■ Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat.

■ Assess and monitor trans fat 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 policymakers, producers, suppliers, and the public.

■ Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.

What is trans fat?

Some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fat. But most trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. This partially hydrogenated oil is less likely to spoil, so foods made with it have a longer shelf life. Some restaurants use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in their deep fryers, because it doesn’t have to be changed as often as do other oils.

Trans fat in your food

The manufactured form of trans fat, known as partially hydrogenated oil, is found in a variety of food products, including:

■ Baked goods. Most cakes, cookies, pie crusts and crackers contain shortening, which is usually made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Ready-made frosting is another source of trans-fat.

■ Snacks. Potato, corn and tortilla chips often contain trans fat. And while popcorn can be a healthy snack, many types of packaged or microwave popcorn use trans fat to help cook or flavour the popcorn.

■ Fried foods. Foods that require deep frying — French fries, doughnuts and fried chicken — can contain trans fat from the oil used in the cooking process.

■ Refrigerator dough. Products such as canned biscuits and cinnamon rolls often contain trans fat, as do frozen pizza crusts.

■ Creamer and margarine. Non-dairy coffee creamer and stick margarines also may contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Reading food labels

When you check the food label for trans-fat, also check the food’s ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil — which indicates that the food contains some trans fat, even if the amount is below 0.5 grams. Eating several portions of foods containing some trans fat may boost your total intake of trans fat to a level high enough to affect your health.

How low should you go?

Trans fat, particularly the manufactured variety found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, appears to have no known health benefit. Experts recommend keeping your intake of trans fat as low as possible.

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How trans fat harms you

Doctors worry about trans fat because it increases the risk for heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Trans fat also has an unhealthy effect on your cholesterol levels — increasing your LDL and decreasing your HDL cholesterol. There are two main types of cholesterol:

— Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.

— High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, or “good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

If the fatty deposits within your arteries tear or rupture, a blood clot may form and block blood flow to a part of your heart, causing a heart attack, or to a part of your brain, causing a stroke.

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Margarine and ghee

What should you eat?

Foods free of trans fats aren’t automatically good for you. Food manufacturers may have substituted other ingredients for trans fat that may not be healthy either. Some of these ingredients, such as tropical oils — coconut, palm kernel and palm oils — contain a lot of saturated fat.

Saturated fat raises your total cholesterol. In a healthy diet, 20 to 35 per cent of your total daily calories can come from fat — but saturated fat should account for less than 10 per cent of your total daily calories.

Monounsaturated fat — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — is a healthier option than is saturated fat. Nuts, fish and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices of foods with healthy fats.

Source: Mayo Clinic