On May 14, 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) unveiled a global plan that aims to encourage countries to eliminate industrial trans-fatty acids (TFAs) in their food supply by 2023.
The brand new initiative, called REPLACE, is said to be the key to protecting health of citizens worldwide and preventing more than 500,000 deaths caused by cardiovascular disease each year.
As Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) explains on their website: “Tans-fatty acids occur both naturally in foods and can be formed or added to foods during manufacture. Naturally occurring TFAs are found in some animal products including butter, cheese and meat. Manufactured TFAs (also known as artificial TFAs) are formed when liquid vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated or ‘hardened’ during processing.”
It’s this manufactured type that’s currently under fire—found in things like margarines as well as packaged snacks, deep fried foods and baked goods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries thanks to its ability to extend shelf life.
Trans fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease as it increases the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowers the good (HDL) cholesterol levels in our blood.
“WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a public statement. “Implementing the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package will help achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease.”
“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?” adds Dr Tedros. “WHO is using this milestone to work with governments, the food industry, academia and civil society to make food systems healthier for future generations.”
Denmark was the first country to impose mandatory restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats in 2003, and according to WHO, have since witnessed a decline in cardiovascular disease-related deaths. Ex-Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, introduced the nation’s first municipal ban on trans fats a few years later in 2006.
A number of other countries have too made the move to restrict or ban trans fats, including Switzerland, Canada, Britain and other parts of the United States. Thailand is also expected to issue a ban in the coming weeks.
So, how does Australia stack up on the health front? Well, The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 1% of our daily energy intake (kilojoules) should come from TFAs.
According to the Heart Foundation, Australians are reportedly having less than this (about 0.5% of total energy) due to the lower levels of trans fat in the Australian food supply (compared to the United States for example).
In saying that, however, around 10% of Australians have an intake that exceeds this level. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia, with 43,963 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2016 with major risk factors being high cholesterol and carrying extra weight.
It’s also important to note here that Australian manufacturers are not required to declare TFAs on food labels, however, it is compulsory if the manufacturer makes a nutrition content claim about cholesterol or saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-3, omega-6 or omega-9 fatty acids. Thoughts? Should Australia be doing more to regulate the use of trans fat in our foods?