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Global Movement against Trans Fat: The Growing Trend of Restriction and Reformulation

August 15, 2023

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) encompass a range of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, including heart attack, stroke, and various other related ailments. They are the leading cause of death globally, claiming an estimated 17.9 million lives each year.

One of the risk factors for CVDs is the excessive consumption of trans-fat, especially industrially-produced trans-fats, also known as artificial trans-fat. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this has resulted in approximately 500,000 deaths per year worldwide. As trans-fat does not provide any known health benefits, the WHO has recommended limiting trans-fat intake to less than 2.2g per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Following this recommendation, some countries have taken the initiative of restricting and prohibiting the inclusion of industrially-produced trans-fat in all food products.

20 years ago, Denmark became the very first country to introduce regulations to limit industrially-produced trans-fat in foods, fats, and oils. The maximum limit for trans-fat is 2% in oils and fats (or 2g trans-fat in 100g) used for food manufacturing. This has set an example for other countries, such as Austria, Chile, Iceland, South Africa, Hungary, and Norway, to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils and restrict trans-fat content in foods (prior to 2017).

In 2018, the WHO launched the REPLACE campaign, an action package and guide aimed at eliminating industrially-produced trans-fat globally by 2023. Since then, more than 60 countries have joined in implementing best practice policies to eliminate and restrict the inclusion of industrially-produced trans-fat in all food, including fats and oils.

There are two best-practice policy models, both of which fully protect people from industrially-produced trans-fat:

• Mandatory national restrictions that limit artificial trans-fat to 2% of the total fat content in all foods, OR

• Mandatory national bans on the production or use of trans-fat-containing partially hydrogenated oils in all foods.

The countries that have implemented the limitation of industrially-produced trans-fat of 2% of the total fat content in all foods include the United Kingdom, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italy, Nigeria, Norway, Turkiye, the United Arabic Emirates, Uruguay, and South Africa.

The countries that have a mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils in all foods are the United States, Canada, Singapore, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

Countries such as Argentina, Egypt, Mexico, Paraguay, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine, have passed the best practice policy, but it is not yet in effect (as of 15 June 2023).

Table 1. Countries with best-practice trans-fat policies in effect

Africa Eastern Mediterranean Europe The Americas South-East Asia Western Pacific Region
Nigeria, South Africa Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkiye, United Kingdom Brazil, Canada, Chile, Peru, United States, Uruguay Bangladesh, India, Thailand Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Singapore

Graph 1. Trans-fat country scorecard map

Reformulation with Palm Oil

With the global trend of eliminating industrially-produced trans-fat in all food, including fats and oils, palm oil serves as a healthy replacement and alternative.

Palm oil is among the edible oils recognised by the CODEX Alimentarius Commission of the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards, and it has been deemed safe for human consumption. It is highly nutritious and free of both trans-fats and cholesterol. Additionally, it possesses a balanced fatty acid composition, consisting of 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated fat. This unique property of palm oil allows it to be naturally semi-solid at room temperature, eliminating the need for “hardening” through a partial hydrogenation process, which produces harmful trans-fat. By blending different fractions of palm oil, various solid fats such as margarine, shortening, and vegan ghee can be produced.

Moreover, palm oil contains powerful antioxidants such as vitamin E (tocotrienols and tocopherols) and carotenoids, which have been proven to offer numerous health benefits, including protection for the heart, brain, and eyes, as well as against certain cancers.

In conclusion, palm oil plays a crucial role in addressing the challenges of globally eliminating industrially-produced trans-fat. It offers compatible costs and does not compromise the quality of food, while reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases. Additionally, it carries these benefits without burdening food manufacturers and end users.

References:

1. World Health Organization. (‎2023)‎. Countdown to 2023: WHO report on global trans fat elimination 2022. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/365617. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO

2. World Health Organization. (‎2023)‎. TFA Country Score Card. World Health Organization. https://extranet.who.int/nutrition/gina/en/scorecard/TFA, accessed on 9June 2023.

Prepared by Vicky Chia

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