Zero trans fat on the front, 0.5 grams at the back! Footloose food labeling policies are the reasons why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and reading between the lines is so important. You may be wondering – It’s just 0.5 grams. What’s the big deal? Well, if the quantity is ‘0.5 grams per serving’, you are consuming way more than you should be. And the scientific community reckons it won’t look good in the long run.
What is trans fat and why you should avoid it?
Trans fat is a form of unsaturated fat that may occur naturally or can be made artificially. Natural trans fatty acids occur in dairy products and meats and tend to be less harmful than the artificial ones.
However, in packaged foods, the trans fatty acids used are a by-product of industrial processing of vegetable and fish oil when they undergo hydrogenation. These by-products have found their way into the food industry because they improve the shelf-life of the packaged food products.
Trans fats go by many names, including unsaturated fats and hydrogenated fats/oils. They are edible and have been scientifically proven to be associated with:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Breast cancer
- Pre-eclampsia and other pregnancy complications
- Colon cancer
Common food items that may contain trans fat
It looks like almost every packaged thing we love contains them. In addition to that foods like cookies, crackers, salty snacks and cake frostings, trans fat is a key ingredient in margarine spreads, bakery shortenings and vanaspati.
Butter, whole milk and other fatty dairy products – this deadly fat is everywhere. Local hot chips vendors, bakeries and patisseries also love trans-fat because it is inexpensive and improves shelf life. So next time you crave potato chips, try and divert your attention to some healthy alternatives.
What has the government done about this?
The FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) published a guideline for the usage of Trans Fat-Free Logo on packages of products without trans fat on 22nd July 2019.
According to the guideline, trans fat content in oils and fats is limited to 5%. This would be reduced to 3% by the year 2021 and 2% by 2022.
It also states that if products contain 0.2gm or lesser trans fat per 100gm/100ml, they can claim trans- fat-free.
The usage of the logo is voluntary and not mandatory.
So, be the keeper of your own health and be aware of what trans-fat-free could mean.
How to check if a product is truly trans fat-free
There is a simple way to check if any item that claims trans-fat-free, really is what it says. Just scan the ingredient list and nutrition panel of the pack. The panel mandatorily provides data on trans fat/unsaturated fat in particular.
If the ingredient list includes hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, margarine, vanaspati or shortenings, then the food is not trans fat-free.
The key is to choose foods that only use vegetable oils. Look for plant sources of oils such as palm, cottonseed, sunflower seed, canola, soybean and so on as they do not contain trans fat.
The bottom line
The consumption of trans fat is much higher in India than the rest of the world as vanaspati is used in almost all our industrially produced sweet items. Did you know our daily intake of fats is between 20 and 30g?
It may be easy to pick a packaged food item, look at the ingredient list and promptly keep it back on the aisle if it contains trans fat. However, it is harder to do so when you pick a product from the unregulated sweetmeat industry. In this light, consumers need to be aware and choose what they eat, wisely.