By CHESHIRE QUE, RND, RN, RD
“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their food?” asks World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The WHO estimates more than 500,000 deaths annually from cardiovascular diseases due to trans fat intake.
Trans fat is a type of fat that naturally occurs in cows and sheep (dairy and meat). Artificially, trans fat is created by putting liquid oils through a process called partial hydrogenation. This process converts the chemical structure of unsaturated fats, found in vegetable oils, from cis (hydrogen atoms on the same side) to trans (hydrogen atoms on opposite sides). The change in the chemical structure renders the fat, now known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or PHVO, harmful to our health.
If it is harmful, why do we create artificial trans fat? Commercially, trans fats are cheaper, solid at room temperature, more stable during deep frying, and able to extend shelf life. It has also become a substitute for animal fats, lard, and butter, which were originally considered less healthy.
Trans fat, PHVO, or Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO) is found in margarine, vegetable shortening, ghee (clarified butter from India), fried food (especially those in fast food joints), doughnuts, baked goods (crackers, biscuits, and cookie), snacks, pies, and pre-mixed products (pancake and hot chocolate mixes).
“Baked and fried street and restaurant food often contains industriallyproduced trans fat. This increases the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death,” said WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Gundo Weiler.
Through the efforts of the Nutritionist Dietitian’s Association of the Philippines, Dr. Gundo Weiler presented to over 1000 Filipino registered nutritionist dietitians in February this year, the increasing burden of trans fat intake, as well as the WHO’s step-by-step guide for the elimination of industrially-produced trans fatty acids from the global supply called REPLACE:
• REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
• Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
• Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats
• Assess and monitor trans fats 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 policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.
• Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.
“WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially produced trans fatty acids from the food supply,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus.
Dr. Weiler emphasized healthier alternatives that can be used in lieu of trans fats that would not affect the taste or cost of food. WHO guidelines suggest using polyunsaturated (PUFA) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) as a replacement for TFA or trans fatty acids. Oils rich in PUFAs include safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, fatty fishes like salmon and tuna, walnuts, chia seeds, and other seeds. On the other hand, oils rich in MUFAs are canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, and oils obtained from nuts and avocados.
In our own ways, we can begin eliminating trans fat from our diet by simply learning how to read food labels. Be inquisitive when doing grocery shopping. Take time to read the list of ingredients. And by being wise in choosing what you put into your plate.