Medical experts have warned that consumption of trans fat is harmful for health. The proportion of chronic heart disease due to trans fatty acid intake is 4.38 percent in Nepal, the World Health Organization has reported.
Five billion people globally remain unprotected from harmful trans fat, a new status report from the UN health organization has found, increasing their risk of heart disease and death.
Though a number of people are suffering from chronic heart diseases in the country they are unaware of trans fat and the health risks associated with it. “Nepali people are not serious about the consumption of trans fat and its health risk. Public has ignored it,” says Dr Sachin Dhungel, senior consultant cardiologist at Gautam Buddha Community Heart Hospital, Butwal.
Trans fats are artificial compounds, mostly formed through an industrial process. These fats are produced by adding hydrogen in vegetable oil. It helps the oil to become solid at room temperature and has a long shelf life. Some meat and dairy products also have a small amount of naturally occurring trans fats.
The WHO has said that industrially produced trans fats or trans-fatty acids are commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads. They are mostly found in processed and baked items such as cakes, breads, cookies, pizza, fried foods, French fries, doughnuts and fried chicken, biscuits and rolls, instant noodles etc.
“These food items are easily available and people are influenced by lucrative advertisements. The taste of the foods prepared in the oil is enhanced, luring people to consume them,” says Prof Uma Koirala, nutritionist.
Instead of consuming junk and processed food items, she suggests eating homemade food items. She also advises against eating foodstuff cooked in oil that has been repeatedly heated, as it increases bad cholesterol in the body.
“Trans fat is liquid oils turned into solid fats during food processing. Trans fat deals a double whammy to cholesterol, by increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (healthy cholesterol),” adds Koirala.
Medical experts say trans fat in foods deposit in veins and could create blockage in the long run, which in turn raises the risk of coronary heart diseases, stroke, cancer and type two diabetes.
Nepal Burden of Disease 2019 study reports that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) were the leading cause of deaths, with 24 percent of total deaths attributed to cardiovascular diseases. The proportion of deaths attributable to CVDs was 26.8 percent in males and 20.7 percent in females. Trans fat intake is responsible for up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year around the world, according to WHO.
“Trans fat helps in increasing cholesterol level and forms plaque, narrowing the blood vessels. When there is a blockage in the blood vessels, it impacts the function of the heart. The blockage can rupture the vessels and cause heart attack and stroke. People are even under the risk of paralysis,” says Dr Dhungel.
He adds at least 25 patients with high blood pressure, cholesterol level, and heart attack are visiting the Butwal based hospital daily. The health risk is more in people over 40 but people below 40 are also suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart problems because of the consumption of foods rich in trans fat, say doctors.
Since WHO first called for the global elimination of industrially produced trans fat in 2018–with an elimination target set for 2023–population coverage of best-practice policies has increased almost six-fold. Forty-three countries have now implemented best-practice policies for tackling trans fat in food, with 2.8 billion people protected globally. Despite substantial progress, this still leaves five billion people worldwide at risk from trans fat’s devastating health impacts with the global goal for its total elimination in 2023 remaining unattainable at this time.
Situation in Nepal
There is a wide use of trans fat in food items produced in Nepal. Also the consumption of such foods is high here. The government has approved the Multisectoral Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (2021–2025), which includes a trans fatty acid target of two percent to be implemented by 2023.
The WHO has said that currently, 9 of the 16 countries with the highest estimated proportion of coronary heart disease deaths caused by trans fat intake do not have a best-practice policy. These countries are Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Australia, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, and the Republic of Korea.
To achieve the goal, the WHO organized a capacity building workshop on eliminating trans fatty acid in Nepal in July 2022. Analysis of trans fatty acid in commonly consumed foods has been completed, providing further evidence for the need to introduce trans fatty acid regulations in Nepal.
The best way for preventing the health risk is to avoid eating food items prepared in trans fat. “We must replace oils containing high trans fats with healthier options. Mustard, sunflower and soya based oils are better,” advised Koirala.
Fat is necessary for health. It helps in metabolism. The daily intake of oil such as in cooking vegetables and in lentils is healthy. It helps in regular metabolism. But an intake of trans fat will have an adverse effect on one’s health.
The government has made policies but their implementation is lacking. The market must be regularly inspected, consumers and sellers should be made aware, and the quality of the foods made in Nepal and those imported from other countries must be maintained, say medical experts.
“Trans fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems,” says WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “By contrast, eliminating trans fat is cost effective and has enormous benefits for health. Put simply, trans fat is a toxic chemical that kills, and should have no place in food. It’s time to get rid of it once and for all.”