Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

United Nations agency calls for all countries to rid foods of trans fat

United Nations agency calls for all countries to rid foods of trans fat

Artificial trans fat or trans-fatty acids are produced in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. They are often present in frying oils, fried snacks, margarine and shortening since trans fat-based oils have a longer shelf life (don't worry, Canada has almost phased them out entirely in those products).

Dr Ravi Shankar, senior gastroenterologist, said, "Trans fats are mainly found in fast foods and if they are consumed in higher quantities, they lead to premature death and accumulation of fats in one's blood vessels which can even lead to cerebral palsy".

"It's a crisis level, and it's major front in our fight now", WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

Trans-fatty acids can also occur naturally in meat and dairy products from ruminant animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, etc). WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg said, "Banning trans-fats in New York City helped reduce the number of heart attacks and eliminating their use around the world can save millions of lives".

Countries will likely have to use regulation or legislation to get food makers to make the switch, experts said. What is new is the World Health Organization global initiative to tackle a non-communicable disease, said Frieden, presently the President and Chief Executive of Resolve to Save Lives (an initiative of non-profit organisation Vital Strategies), involved with implementing the World Health Organization campaign.

The first trans fatty food to hit the US market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911. They became popular in the 1950s through 1970s with the discovery of the negative health impacts of saturated fatty acids. They used them in doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

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.

"Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there's no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed" to it, Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Los Angeles Times.

In this photo illustration, a Marie Callender's pie, which has 3.5 grams of trans fat, and Land O Lakes Margarine, which has 3 grams of trans fat, are seen together on June 16, 2015, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Eliminating these fats is the "key to protecting health and saving lives", it said, in a statement.

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