In its latest guidelines on trans fats in food supply, the WHO has advised governments, especially those in low and middle income countries, to eliminate these fats by 2023.
Eliminating these fats is the “key to protecting health and saving lives”, it said, in a statement. Each year, more than 500,000 people die due to cardiovascular disease, that is attributed to intake of trans fats.
In the Indian context, the WHO has termed ghee as a trans fat laden food, despite mounting evidence on the “good fat” in it. “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 that would not affect taste or cost of food,” The global health body said in the statement.
The call to eliminate trans fats follows from the WHO's updated guidelines on fat – already being contested by experts – that were released on May 4.
In the draft guidelines, open for public comments till June 1, the global health body defined the healthy intake of saturated and trans fats to prevent cardiovascular disease – reduce the intake of saturated fats to less than 10 per cent of your daily calorie count, it said.
Trans fats should be less than 1 per cent of the total count (less than 2.2gm per day in a 2,000 calorie); both fats must be replaced by polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fat.
According to the WHO experts, there are two main sources for trans fats: natural sources (in dairy products and meat of ruminants such as cows and sheep) and industrially-produced sources (partially hydrogenated oils). Partially hydrogenated oils were first introduced into the food supply in the early 20th century as a replacement for butter. They became popular in the 1950s through 1970s with the discovery of the negative health impacts of saturated fatty acids. Partially hydrogenated oils are primarily used for deep frying and as an ingredient in baked goods.
Trans fats increase the levels of LDL-cholesterol, a well-accepted biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk, and decreases levels of HDL-cholesterol, which carry away cholesterol from arteries and transport it to the liver, that secretes it into the bile. Diets high in trans fat increase heart disease risk by 21 per cent and deaths by 28 per cent.
Replacing trans fats with unsaturated fatty acids decreases the risk of heart disease, in part, by ameliorating the negative effects of trans fats on blood lipids. In addition, there are indications that trans fat may increase inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.
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.
In Denmark, the first country to mandate restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats, the trans fat content of food products declined dramatically and cardiovascular disease deaths declined more quickly than in comparable OECD countries.
Action is needed in low and middle-income countries, where controls of use of industrially-produced trans fats are often weaker, to ensure that the benefits are felt equally around the world, the WHO statement said.