By Jane DreaperHealth correspondent, BBC News
Trans-fats should be eliminated from food in England, NHS watchdog NICE has said. Trans-fats can be found in some fried foods. The artificial fats are often found in biscuits, cakes and fast food - but they can damage health. NICE is also pressing for further reductions in salt and saturated fats, to help prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease.
The British food industry said it was already leading the world in promoting healthier production. Cardiovascular disease, which comprises heart disease and stroke, is the biggest cause of death in the UK.
Experts who worked on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines say 40,000 of the 150,000 annual deaths are "eminently preventable". The best way to prevent cardiovascular disease is for people to eat better and be more active.
Department of Health Spokesperson
They believe that reducing salt and saturated fats, as well as banning trans-fats, would save the NHS more than £1bn. The group's vice-chairman, Professor Simon Capewell, who is a public health physician in Liverpool, said: "Everyone has the idea that prevention is worthy, but takes decades to be fulfilled.
The NICE guidelines say trans-fats should be eliminated from the food chain.
The experts recommend that low-salt products should be sold more cheaply - perhaps by using subsidies. They say food producers and caterers should reduce the use of saturated fat - but if necessary, the government should "consider supportive legislation".
And they are calling for food labels to be colour coded - under the "traffic light" scheme - although this was rejected by the European Parliament last week. Prof Capewell added: "The targets on salt might seem quite challenging - but we're only calling for a 6% reduction each year. It's not like we want this done by Friday. "The amount of salt in bread has already gone down by 40% in the past five years, thanks to a voluntary agreement with industry. They are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, turning oily foods into semi-solid foods Used to extend shelf life of products Can raise levels of "bad" cholestrol.
Even a small reduction in consumption can cut heart disease They have no nutritional benefit They are banned in some countries eg. Denmark
"Tastes adapt - and people simply don't notice."
Although the NICE experts praised some food companies as "progressive", the guidelines have been criticised by the Food and Drink Federation.
Its spokesman, Julian Hunt, said: "We're surprised that NICE has found the time and the money to develop guidance that seems to be out of touch with the reality of what has been happening for many years. "The food industry is leading the world when it comes to voluntarily changing the recipes of popular food brands so that they are lower in salt, fat or sugar. "Industry reformulation efforts have already resulted in the levels of trans-fats in foods dropping to well below the suggested maximum daily intake recommended by the World Health Organization." 'Not practical' The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, said: "Many of the diet-related recommendations made by NICE have the added benefit of costing the public purse little to nothing.
"The profits of private firms ought not to take precedence when compared with the health of the more than four million people at risk in this country." Certainly we should be eating more healthily and be made aware of what is in our foods. A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The best way to prevent cardiovascular disease is for people to eat better and be more active. "The NHS provides high quality cardiac care and there has been a reduction in cardiovascular deaths of about 50% over the last 15 years through better prevention and better treatment. "Today's recommendations are extensive and wide ranging but it is not practical to implement certain proposals in this guidance, for example on the mandatory use of traffic lights alongside GDA in food labelling. "It is extremely important that work by NICE is methodologically robust and includes fully workable proposals."
Fat of the matter
Results of CSE laboratory study on cooking oils released. Study looks at major brands in the market. Reveals some unpalatable facts about fat
* Finds high levels of dangerous trans fats in all samples of vanaspati oils * Sub-committee of health ministry accepts that trans fats unhealthy and wants standards set urgently. But health ministry gives in to industry pressure – no standard is set. Instead, allows companies to label and get away * Study finds oil companies can make claims about health benefits which cannot be substantiated, because we have no real regulator for our health
New Delhi, February 3, 2009: How ‘healthy’ is the oil that you are eating? Despite tall claims by companies and manufacturers, the stark truth is that you can never tell. In fact, the oil that you eat believing it to be the best for your health, could probably be swimming with trans fats, which could lead to heart diseases and cancer. Or its claims to health benefits could be plain misinformation – and you would never know, as there is no way of counter-checking these claims.
And all this happens because food regulatory bodies in India just have no stomach for setting stricter standards – for the product or for the health claims on its labels.
This is the finding of a latest laboratory study by the Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). CSE had, earlier, published its findings on pesticides in bottled water, soft drinks and other products.
Trans fats in our oils: what the study foundCSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab tested 30 samples of branded oil widely available in the market. The total fatty acid profile (saturated and unsaturated) comprising 37 components and nine trans fats was analysed. The samples comprised vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower, mustard and coconut, partially hydrogenated (vanaspati) oils, desi ghee and butter. They were tested according to the internationally used methodology of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) for fatty acids analysis (Method 969.33 Fatty acids in Oils and Fats).
The tests found that in all vanaspati brands, trans fat levels were five to 12 times higher than the world’s only standard for trans fats in oil, set in Denmark, at 2 per cent of the total oil.
The level ranged from 23.7 per cent in the case of ‘Panghat’ (a Mawana Sugar brand) and 23.31 per cent in the case of ‘Raag’ (an Adani Wilmar Ltd brand). Interestingly, the lowest trans fats level was found in desi ghee of Milk Foods Ltd and in Amul butter – 3.73 per cent (see graph).
It is now well understood in the world of food science that trans fats are found in cooking oil because of the industrial process of hydrogenation, which industry prefers because it can sell oils that have longer shelf life and are easier to use.
But trans fats are deadly for health. They are especially bad for the heart, as they reduce the amount of good cholesterol (HDL). They can increase the risk of infertility in women, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. French researchers have even connected them to breast cancer. It is for this reason that all across the world, trans fats in oil are indicted and are being banned or tightly regulated. After Denmark, most US states have taken the decision to ban or restrict trans fats in food in restaurants.
India’s regulatory maladyWhat is shocking, find CSE researchers, is that even while our food regulators have accepted trans fats as a serious health concern, they are delaying setting the standard, presumably under pressure from the edible oil industry. This is particularly strange, as “today our oil and food industry is in the hands of big multinationals who meet these standards in other parts of the world.” As a result, India has no regulation to check the content of trans fats in oil.
In 2004, the Union health ministry’s Oils and Fats Sub-committee, under the Central Committee for Food Standards, begun discussions on a standard for trans fats. In January 2008, the sub-committee forwarded its recommendations to the Central committee for standards. But the Central committee is still awaiting more data and information. This procrastination means while there are no legal standards, companies are literally getting away with murder.
Instead of standards, in September 2008, the Union ministry issued a notification for labelling of trans fats on oil and food. So today, oil companies get away by giving the composition in a range: Rath vanaspati, for instance, says its package has 8-33 per cent trans fats. This would mean that the product has 15 times higher trans fats than the Danish standard. This makes a complete mockery of the science of food regulations.
Says Sunita Narain, director, CSE: “If you consider what the Union ministry of health has issued in the name of labelling nutrition facts and you will know how our food is at risk. It literally allows companies to get away with anything – as long as it is on the label. This is just not acceptable.”
Other oils: high on hype, low on factsThe other brands tested did not have trans fats but were still very far from the ‘perfect healthcare solution’ that most of them claimed to be. In fact, the study has found that it is impossible to say with certainty which oil is the best. Manufacturers claim advantages which just cannot be adequately cross-checked and verified.
For instance, while sunflower oil, rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA, claims to be excellent for the heart, it is low on omega 3; recent research says that it is omega 3 which prevents ischemic heart diseases. Similarly, canola or rapeseed oil, touted to be “as healthy as olive oil”, has been blasted by a large number of studies for being unhealthy for the cardiovascular system and for retarding growth.
The study finds that if all oils are compared against the WHO recommendation, then no single oil in the market can claim to be healthy. For instance, the WHO says that the ratio of PUFA and saturated fatty acids in oil should be between 0.8-1. It also recommends that the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 should be between 5-10. None of the tested oils, including the much touted healthy brands, meet these standards – says the CSE study.
In this existing climate of misinformation and half-baked information, nutritionists recommend “the best oil is one used in moderation and switched frequently to get the maximum nutrition value.”
Clearly, the matter of food is too serious to be ignored by our regulators, says CSE. We need stringent standards and tough enforcement so that companies cannot take us and our food for a ride. This is a matter of our bodies.
* Souparno Banerjee or Shachi Chaturvedi on 9910864339 or 9818750007. You can also write to them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org