The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for global elimination of industrially produced trans fat by 2023. Aligning with this, India’s food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has proposed to limit the maximum amount of trans fat content in vegetable oils, vegetable fat, and hydrogenated vegetable oil to 2 per cent by weight as part of its goal to make India trans fat – free by 2022. The Regulator has taken a phased approach, where, the industry is expected to bring down the TFA to three percent by January 2021, as against the currently allowed five per cent, followed by the global target of two percent by 2022 (ahead of WHO’s global target). At the same time, effective implementation of the said policies at the state level is highly important for the benefit to reach consumers. Thus, it is important for the government and the food safety officials in the states to make a targeted approach. The authorities should start collecting and maintaining data on compliance, test products from markets periodically to ensure adherence to regulations, educate the industry and consumers on the harmful effects of trans fats and take appropriate action for non-compliance. This will help in reducing cardiovascular deaths, as is the case with countries like Denmark, which introduced regulations on reduction in TFAs in food items way back in 2003.
Trans fatty acids or trans fat is a type of saturated fatty acid that can either occur naturally or can be manufactured during the process of hydrogenation of vegetable oil. Vegetable oils are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to turn them into solid fat at room temperature. This increases their shelf life, and enhances the taste and texture of processed food items. Hydrogenated vegetable fat is a cheap source of oil/fat for branded and local food manufacturing companies. Trans fats can be found in food products such as margarine, fried foods such as chips; chocolates, biscuits and all baked goods. Trans fats occur naturally in milk, cheese, and certain meats. Artificial trans fats are known to raise the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood and increase the risk of coronary artery heart disease and stroke. Diets high in trans fats increase heart disease risk by 21 per cent and deaths by 28 per cent. Studies reveal that intake of Trans Fatty Acids (TFA) results in more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease, annually. In India, that number is pegged at about 60,000 deaths.