India’s food regulator has proposed to place a 2% by weight limit on the amount of trans fat content in industrially produced vegetable oils, vegetable fat and hydrogenated vegetable oil as part of its goal to make India trans fat-free by 2022.
TFAs are produced when vegetable oil hardens in a process called hydrogenation.
They are largely present in vanaspati (a hydrogenated vegetable fat commonly used as a substitute for butter) and margarine and bakery shortenings. They are also formed during repeated heating of fats and oils while preparing deep fried products.
In India, vanaspati is mainly used in preparation of mithai (such as ladoo, imarti and jalebi) and deep fried foods, while margarine and bakery shortenings are used in preparation of bakery products like cakes, pastries and puffs.
Industrially produced TFAs can be easily eliminated by adopting newer technologies that allow the use of healthier oils in place of PHVOs. TFAs are also present naturally in dairy milk.
“When consumed in moderation, the natural trans-fatty acids are not known to have adverse health effects,” said the regulator.
According to Pawan Kumar Agarwal, CEO of FSSAI, India will be “a year ahead of the global target to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fat from the food supply by the year 2023.”
In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a movement known as REPLACE (Review dietary sources, Promote use of healthier fats, Legislate, Assess changes, Create awareness and Enforce) that outlines how countries can remove and replace all trans fatty acids (TFAs) from their food supplies, with the intention to eradicate it from the globe.
TFAs have been shown to have harmful effects on health, raising bad cholesterol levels and increasing risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The WHO states TFAs are the culprit behind cardiovascular disease that claims over 17 million lives annually.
Consensus between authority, industry and the public
The decision was taken in New Delhi of FSSAI officials and vanaspati and edible oil manufacturers, along with public health experts and consumer organisations.
“It has been agreed that this plan will be implemented in a phased manner. That will effectively bring the level of trans-fats in food in the country to zero,” added Agarwal.
Now that consensus has been reached, the food authority will release a draft regulation soon. The final regulation will take about three to four months.
“The FSSAI commits to facilitate industries in capacity-building for the smooth transition,” said Agarwal.
In 2015, the Indian food regulator set the maximum level of TFAs at 5% in food products, down from 10%. It also directed that the level of trans fats must be disclosed on the label.
Several countries have already limited TFAs in all foods to 2%, including Denmark, Chile, Norway, Singapore, South Africa and Ecuador. Other countries – such as Austria, Hungary and Latvia – limit its use to 2%, but with some exceptions.
Even more countries have started making steps towards restricting and removing TFAs from their food, including Canada, Switzerland, Thailand, Britain and the US.