World Health Organization unveils new strategies to fight trans-fat in foods

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber

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.

Most of the American food industry stopped using artificial trans fats, a leading cause of heart disease and death globally, well in advance of a federal ban that goes into effect next month, and few consumers noticed the change in their French fries or doughnuts.

Most of the trans fats you're eating are probably made from soy beans.

"We call on food producers in our sector to take prompt action and we stand ready to support effective measures to work toward the elimination of industrially produced trans fats and ensure a level playing field in this area", said Rocco Rinaldi, secretary-general of the International Food and Beverage Alliance.

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In a statement Monday, the United Nations health agency said eliminating trans fats is critical to preventing deaths worldwide.

"Multinational companies that make trans fats and have used them as ingredients said they have largely eliminated those oils from foods in the US, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments already restrict their use". "Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there's no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed".

There are two main sources for trans fats: natural sources (in the dairy products and meat of ruminants such as cows and sheep) and industrially-produced sources (partially hydrogenated oils).

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Several high-income countries have virtually eliminated industrially-produced trans fats through legally imposed limits on the amount that can be contained in packaged food. But these fats are still commonly used in the Middle East, India, Pakistan and elsewhere, which is why it is welcome news that the World Health Organization is calling on countries to phase them out by 2023. Moreover, the foods that still contain trans fats in the USA and Europe tend to disproportionately affect the poor, because foods containing trans fats tend to be cheaper. Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard.

It said adults and children should consume a maximum of 10% of their daily calories in the form of saturated fat and 1% from trans fats to reduce the risk of heart disease. Global elimination of industrially-produced trans fats can help achieve this goal. In addition, many countries have not explained the health risks that these fats pose.

And so, in 2015, the FDA gave the food industry three years to stop using partially hydrogenated oils.

Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.

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"The removal of trans fats from the food supply as an additive counts as one of the major public health victories of the last decade", said Laura MacCleery, policy director for the Washington, D.C. -based advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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