The Food and drug administration in Thailand have announced that as from January 2019 there will be a ban on the production, imports and sales of trans fats. The reason for these new restrictions is purely about health and well-being as there is now clear scientific proof that they substantially increase the risk of heart disease. Studies also suggest that there may well be links to diabetes, arthritis and systemic inflammation.
Thailand authorities have been quick to pick up the mantle originally thrown down by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in May 2018. Many countries such as the US have banned trans fats but countries in Africa and Asia still use it in food production. The goal of the WHO is to ban trans fats around the world by 2023.
So what are trans fats?
The amount of people who are dying from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes is on the rise. This is partly because of the more sedate lifestyles individuals lead, daily stresses tend to be more acute generally in the 21st century and fast foods often take the place of a balanced diet. But thanks to new scientific progress scientists can also determine which foods are likely to cause health issues in the long-term. One of these foods is trans fats.
The use of trans fats are because of manufacturing benefits of food products as much as factors about taste and texture. Many people think they are the product of the fast food industry but they have been around for a lot longer than that. They were first developed in the 20th century and used to replace butter in products in order to enhance shelf-life. The use of trans fats increased again in the 1950’s when consumers became concerned about the problems of saturated fats. Trans fats were used as a substitute for butter – in margarine.
Where do you find trans fats?
- The escalation of the use of trans fats in food production is largely due to the development of fast food. It makes the food last longer before it goes rancid. It is therefore present in common take out food such as fried chicken, French fries, hash browns and pocket fruit pies.
- Look to your coffee too – artificial creamers cam contain as much as 1 gram of trans fat.
- It is found in desert mixes and frosting (i.e. for cup-cakes) and also in pie crusts.
- It has even finds its way into the cinema as it is found in Popcorn.
- Shop bought cakes and biscuits.1
Is it banned in other Asian countries?
Many countries across the world are either limiting the use, or totally banning trans-fat. In 2003 a law was passed in Denmark limiting the use of trans fats in food production. Other European countries were quick to follow. In 2006, New York city banned them completely. Although at first this ban was greatly criticised (i.e. the government regulating what could be eaten), the statistics which showed a fall in cardiovascular diseases (Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology) proved the ban had saved many lives. The US created a national ban in 2015.
Other countries in Asia are also aware of the issue and taking action. Singapore for instance has not banned it completely but limits industrially produced trans fat content to 2%. The Philippines and South Korea (as many countries do now) require packaging to clearly state the presence and percentage of trans fats in the product.
Malaysia and Indonesia use a significant amount of trans fats in the production of their foods. However, this is balanced off by their abundant use of Palm Oil which could be considered as an alternative to trans fats. For manufacturers it has many qualities such as low-costs, shelf-stability and a creamy taste. The problem is that even though Palm Oil does not have the same health issues as trans fats, it is not eco-friendly. Palm Oil is considered unsustainable because it is one of the leading drivers of deforestation, it has destroyed habitats of endangered species and plays it’s own part in destruction of peat lands.2
Replacement for trans fats
In limiting or banning trans fats, the authorities in Thailand and other Asian countries will need to educate food industry businesses and consumers about effective and safe replacements for trans fats. This could include:
- Using butter more but in moderate amounts. It must be remembered that saturated fats can be as bad as trans fats.
- Even though vegetable oils also contain saturated fats, many scientists believe they are not so bad for your health as other food products which contain saturated fats. Palm oil would come under this umbrella but has it’s environmental problems.
- Blending acceptable oil products into formulations which yield the benefits of partially hydrogenated oils: capturing shelf-life; texture and taste without the high risks. (i.e. using sunflower, soy and cottonseed in combination).
- Bake your own instead of relying on shop bought and using healthy liquid fat such as grapeseed oil walnut oil and vegetable oil.
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