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Why we must reduce consumption of trans fat

Why we must reduce consumption of trans fat
August 14
12:51 2020

BY ADIE VANESSA OFFIONG

While not all fatty acids are dangerous to the health, research has shown that those produced industrially through partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, more commonly known as trans fats, are one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases.

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To understand trans fat and what it is, imagine you have butter and margarine. While butter is fat from animal, margarine is an imitation butter made from industrially processed (hydrogenated) vegetable oils.

The processing, which is also called hydrogenation, produces fats and oils with longer shelf lives. This is what is attractive to many in the food industry and creates the now debunked notion that such fats and oils are a cheaper alternative with better tasting products.

It is against this backdrop that, in 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that trans fats should not make up more than 0.9% of a person’s diet. In 2018, the UN health agency introduced a six-step guide to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply.

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The guide, generally called REPLACE, covers the following areas: Review dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fat and the landscape for required policy change; promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fat with healthier fats and oils; legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat.

Other areas are to: Assess and monitor trans fat content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population; create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fat among policy-makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.

Enforce compliance with policies and regulations.

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In line with this call, CAPPA in partnership with the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) unveiled public service announcements (PSAs) to the public and the media, for use by public health groups and to educate the public on trans fats. This is with a focus on the regulation of trans fat consumption in Nigeria.

The video, rendered in English, Pidgin English, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, begins with a man who had collapsed, or suddenly died from seemingly unknown causes just as the narrator explains that: “If we go back to see what caused this heart attack, we would find toxic fat that kills over half a million people a year by making deadly cholesterol block your arteries. It is called trans fat.

She also cited some examples of foods that are likely to have been produced with trans fats, common in baked, packaged and fried foods we eat every day, adding that eliminating trans fat will not change the taste or cost of our food, so, let’s make Nigeria’s future trans fat free.

At the virtual launch of the PSAs, the groups expressed concern over dangers that trans fat pose to public health. They warned that consumption is insidiously harmful to the heart and overall health, except something urgent is done.

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Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA’s executive director, while making a reference to research findings, said it has been revealed that sustained high trans fat in the body leads to increased bad cholesterol, lowered good cholesterol, coronary heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive diseases. He also said its consumption is known to increase the risk of heart attack and death with an estimated 540,000 fatalities globally in 2010, according to the latest available data. Nigeria recorded 1,261 of this total number.

Jerome Mafeni, NHED technical adviser, on the project for eliminating trans-fat, said: “Industrially produced trans fatty acids are silent killers which very few people know about, yet they are present in many of the foods we all love to eat.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made global trans fat elimination a priority (World Health Organisation, 13th General Programme of Work, WHO/PRP/18.1 (2019)), and has called on governments to enact mandatory measures to protect the public from trans fat consumption (World Health Organisation, REPLACE, Module 4: Legislate or regulate, WHO/NMH/NHD/19.14 (2019)).

The WHO prescribes a mandatory limit of 2g of trans fat per 100g of total fat in all fats, oils, and foods to be a best-practice measure.

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At least 29 countries have taken steps to limit trans fat in their food supplies. Some of these countries are South Africa, India, Brazil, UK, USA, Canada, Turkey and Thailand. There has been a consistent call from health experts and advocates for Nigeria to follow suit.

The newly released trans fat PSAs are already being broadcast and featured on the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign’s social media platforms.

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