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Is India doing something about Trans Fats?

February 27, 2007

There are indications that the government might make it mandatory to mention the quantity of Trans fats on food labels. This is what the Times of India reported a few days ago:

According to a source in the ministry of health and family welfare, from August, manufacturers wil have to compulsorily mention the presence, if any, of trans fat and saturated fat on product labels. The US made such a listing mandatory from January 2006.

Well, one doesn’t know whether this will actually happen, but at least they are thinking about it! The government has also asked Hyderabad’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN, recognised by WHO) to conduct a region-wise study on the presence of trans fats in vanaspati.
Now that it is well known that Indians are predisposed to the heart disease, there seems to be some action being taken to at least find out what poisons our people are consuming! That Indians are genetically susceptible has been proved in studies on Indians living in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In India too, studies have shown that heart disease rates are increasing. It is also known that consumption of transfats is one of the leading causes of heart disease. Many countries have already come down heavily on the presence of transfats in foods. New York restaurants have in fact banned trans fats.
Trans fats are killer fats
For many years we were told that it was saturated fats which were the main cause of heart disease, but now we know that the other villains are trans fats.
Unfortunately in India trans fats (referred to as ‘killer’ fats), are used a lot. If the west uses margarine, we in India use vanaspati. This is found in plenty in commercial foods as using vanaspati improves taste at a low cost. Hotels invariably use vanaspati. Commercial Indian sweets also use vanaspati. Plus street food like potato wadas and samosas are often fried in vanaspati or if oil is used, it used over and over again. Re-using oil can be bad for health too as it is known to contain toxins, even if it isn’t transfat.
Beware – Trans fat is present not just in fried foods but also sweets, chocolate products, bread spreads, soups, salad dressings, snacks and even ice cream! And ofcourse it is used liberally in hotels and restaurants in almost everything, from pulao’s to rotis to curries. There is no law as yet to ban it, or even warn consumers about how much trans fat we are taking in.
Studies show the connection
A study conducted on the connection between diet and risk of ischemic heart disease in India says:

Ischemic heart disease (IHD) is a leading cause of death in India. Dietary changes could reduce risk, but few studies have addressed the association between diet and IHD risk in India. It was found that those who had a higher intake of vegetables, whole grains and mustard oil had fewer problems. Dietary factors that may contribute to a high IHD risk in India include low intakes of vitamin B-6 and folate and high intakes of trans fatty acids, which have been associated with risk in studies conducted in the West. In parts of India, trans fats from hydrogenated vegetable oil in the form of vanaspati are consumed in greater quantity than in the United States. In contrast, in North India, the most commonly used oil in cooking is mustard oil. Mustard oil, like canola oil, is produced from rapeseed, a member of the crucifer family that is rich in – linolenic acid which may reduce the risk of IHD (16-18).

We’ve been aware that saturated fats are bad for the heart and that mono and polyunsaturated fats are more protective of the heart. And now we have another killer – Trans fat. If you have a lot of saturated fat in your diet plus trans fat, you can imagine the havoc it will cause in your body.

In India the situation is grim. The World Health Organization has predicted that deaths due to circulatory system diseases will double between 1985 and 2015 in India.
So far we have been pretty lax when it comes to changing our food and packaging laws to keep up with health discoveries. Whether it is to keep the food industry happy or whether it is sheer inertia, I think it sucks.

Related Reading: Our food labeling laws are archaic
Faulty food packaging is poisioning us
Noodles are junk food
Food can affect our personality too
Indians prone to heart disease
Eleven reasons why Indians are not healthy

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2007 7:49 pm

    It is a very important point and this news should be an eye opener to all of us. Refried oil is not only used by the roadside fast food sellers I have seen people using it at home also.This is definitely because of lack of awareness.Vanaspati ghee is advertised on TV channels, this should not be allowed in the larger interests of the consumer.Commercially Vanaspati is used because products made from Vanaspati have longer shelf life.If this cannot be banned ,they should at least put a warning on the label of Vanaspati.

  2. Dr. AparnaPradhan permalink
    March 30, 2007 11:51 am

    Trans fats are extremelly harmful. People should be educated about their deleterious effects on health. School children should be made aware of the consequences of eating FOOD STUFF loaded with these hidden killer fats.This can be done effectively by the media and by talks delivered by experts in schools and TV channels.

  3. avishkaar permalink
    July 11, 2008 5:03 pm

    Hi Nita, thanks for the informative article. Would like to know what is your take on refined oil – also being used widely in India, and being advertised as good for the heart? I am skeptical about its benefits. You have any idea?

    I would like to investigate this too and you have given me an idea for a post. Will find out but I just hope I can access the information. But will write about this. Thanks – Nita.

  4. May 17, 2010 6:58 pm

    Trans fats are in most hardened vegetables oils, not only Vanaspati.

    The other concern is a high amount of saturated fats in ghee and coconut oil, widely used as cooking fats In India. Mustard oil and peanut oil on the other hand are low in saturated fats. I’ve collocted more nutrition data (calories, proteins, fats, carbs) about typical Indian foods, like rice, roti, goat meat, chicken, coconut chutney and others.

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