Biscuits, cookies, muffins, pizzas or hamburgers may be a part of your diet at least thrice a week. But do you know that trans fatty acids in these foods could potentially damage your heart?
Acknowledging the ill-effects of trans fatty acids or TFA, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) is moving to prohibit their use.
Nutritionists oppose the use of trans fats, mainly to give the desired crunchy feel which people love in their food and cannot do without, but are ‘evil’ for the body and may pose a threat to cardiovascular health, liver and kidneys.
Dr Manjari Chandra, chief consultant, Nutritionists Republic, said trans fats are a part of all fast foods and are harmful in several ways.
“Trans fats are present in the commonest food items like chips, burgers and pizzas that we consume without giving a second thought. But the intake exposes consumers to cardiovascular problems and also affects other organs,” she remarked.
Keeping these ill effects in mind, the USFDA recently determined that the use of Partially Hydrogenated Oils or PHOs, which are the primary dietary sources of artificial trans fats in processed foods, are not safe for consumption. The agency has also opened a 60-day comment period to collate inputs on how much time food manufacturers need to reformulate products that contain this component before calling it a ‘food additive’ that cannot be used in food unless authorised by a regulation.
Even if a packet of chips, flavoured bread, preserved food mixes for dosas, idlis or traditional sweets say ‘Zero trans fats’ in bold letters or under the label ‘Nutrition Facts’, it is just a marketing gimmick, Dr Chandra said.
“Most of these foods are manufactured in machines in large food processing units. Even if normal oil is used for frying, TFAs are automatically produced when the oil is heated to temperatures of around 400 degrees Celsius in certain conditions,” she said.
“A ‘safe quantity’ of trans fat does not exist as it does not have any beneficial effects. The lesser of it we consume, the better,” she said.
Regulating the use of trans fats is a welcome step, but their effects, when consumed in a traditional Indian meal, has not been studied so far, said Dr Lokesh B R, chief scientist, lipid science and traditional foods, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore.
He said that an Indian meal consisting of rice, meat, vegetables, spices and other items cooked in oil also consist of trans fats, but the effect of this combination on health is not known.
He said hydrated fats like vanaspati were the main source of trans fats. “Trans fat content in food has come down from 50-55 per cent to 12-15 per cent of late, but it should be reduced further to 3-4 per cent. Naturally-occurring trans fats in milk and milk products are not harmful,” he said.
Dr Lokesh suggested that processed margarine or palm oil could be used as alternatives to trans fats. “Although they won’t have the consistency, aroma, flavour, texture and mouth feel like vanaspati, they are healthier alternatives,” he said.
Trans fats are also said to skew the ratio of High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol and Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL), or ‘bad’ cholesterol.