What is the one common thing that foods like bhatura, puri, samosa, halwa, aloo tikki, kachori, fried namkeens, patty, french fries, cake, pastry, cookies, fast foods and pizza contain? Yes you are right they contain high levels of trans fat or fatty acids as they are also called. So what exactly are fatty acids and why are we worried about them in our food?
Trans fats are basically of two kinds. One type of trans fat occurs naturally and can be found in the gut of animals that graze on grasses. Therefore some amount of trans fat is found in products like meat, meat products, milk, and milk products. In these products the level of trans fat could be as low as 2-5% of fat content.
Trans fat is formed artificially when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. This process makes vegetable oil solid like in vanaspati. Trans fat is also formed during food processing and these two kinds of trans fat can lead to a number of diseases like coronary problems, diabetes and hypertension. Depending on a number of factors the trans fat level in vanaspati could be as high as 50-60% of total fat content.
A number of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are used by food manufacturers in processed foods as they improve texture, stability and flavour of foods and help to extend shelf like. All this is very good from the manufacturers point of view but it seems that more than half the trans fat consumers eat comes from processed food which is not very good news from the health point of view of consumers. Eating trans fat raises the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood and decrease blood levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. A number of scientific studies indicate that that trans fat may do more harm than even saturated fat and therefore all food regulations around the world are limiting the trans fat content in edible oils.
In India the food regulations had allowed trans fat content of 10 percent in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs) till recently. However, seeing the growing concerns about potential health effects and the growing number of people in India suffering from heart diseases the FSSAI had asked the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad to carry out an analysis of the risk of trans-fat in Indian diets. NIN had recommended only one per cent of total energy should come from the saturated fat and trans fat. Following the NIN report the FSSAI came out with a draft notification in 2014 that proposes to limit trans fat content to 5 percent by weight from the prevalent 10 percent in PHVOs.
In India, vanaspati, margarine, ghee, butter etc. are sources of trans fat. Fried, processed, ready to eat, bakery foods are other sources of trans fat. Globally eating excessive junk food is the main source of trans fat. The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised countries to limit consumption of trans fat. The WHO advises that it is important for population and individual health that trans fat should be removed from the food supply and should be replaced by cis-unsaturated fats from vegetable oils rather than saturated fats from tropical oils and animal fats. In June 2015 the US recognised that partially hydrogenated oils are unsafe and planned to ban its use in the next three years.
The FSSAI has also proposed to
- Trans fat limit in vanaspati / partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to be brought down
- Chemical and Enzymatic esterification for production of vanaspati for regulating trans fatty acids is also proposed to be allowed
- Palm Stearin content may be permitted only in interesterified fat and not approved for blending of oils or to be used as such
The Apex food regulator has also proposed to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fats and saturated fats content on vanaspati packs, edible oils or other products containing trans fat from vanaspati sources. While food manufacturers begin to reduce the levels of trans fats from their products from that date onwards, consumers will still need to check labels and ensure that their health does not suffer from eating foods that have high content of trans fat