By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos
Despite the global call on trans fats and its impending health risks, it remains to be a mainstay in restaurants and the food industry – for frying, baked goods, and processed snack foods, and margarine.
Nutritionist Anna Eliza Bartolata says that many manufacturers still opt to use this as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. “They more stable and less likely to become rancid,” she says, adding that it is also a lot cheaper than its healthier counterparts.
Eliminating such a harmful substance from processed foods could prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and deaths annually. Individual and small businesses’ efforts would not be enough to push for trans-fats free food products in the market.
Recently, Rep. Ronnie Ong filed the House Bill No. 7202 “Trans-Fat Free Philippines Act,” which seeks to protect Filipinos from the threat of death and diseases linked to TFA consumption by progressively removing industrially-produced TFA from the food supply.
The bill is anchored on the World Health Organizaton (WHO) campaigh, the REPLACE package, aims to eliminate trans fats in the food supply. It serves as a framework for countries in implementing actions to reduce and eliminate industrially produced TFA.
REPLACE stands for Review of dietary sources of industrially-produced trans-fat and the landscape for required policy change; Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans-fat with healthier fats and oils; Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fat; Assess and monitor trans-fat content in the food supply and changes in trans-fat consumption in the population; Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fat among policy-makers, producers, suppliers, and the public; and Enforce compliance with policies and regulations.
Food giants’ response
In response to WHO’s call, the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) which consists of 12 leading food and non-alcoholic beverage companies including Coca-Cola, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Grupo Bimbo, Kellogg, Mars Wrigley, McDonald’s, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, has committed in 2018 to not exceed 2 g iTFA per 100 g fat/oil in their products worldwide by 2023.
“In support of both WHO Guidelines recommending a maximum 1% total energy intake from all trans-fat and an intake of saturated fat not exceeding 10% of total energy intake, IFBA member companies will seek wherever possible to avoid that reformulation efforts to meet this iTFA commitment result in increases in saturated fat content,” their statement reads.
In an interview with FoodNavigator-Asia, Nestle Philippines SVP and Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications Arlene Bantoto said that their products will not get affected by anti-trans fats campaigns and bills filed against trans fats as they have removed trans fats in their products since 2014.
This echoes the statement of Constantin Bertoli Senior expert in fats and oils at the Nestlé Product Technology Centre Nutrition, Konolfingen, Switzerland. “At Nestlé, we share consumers’ and health authorities’ concerns about the health effects of trans-fat from partially hydrogenated oils (PHO),” he says. “That is why our objective is the complete removal of all trans-fats originating from PHO. In 2014, we strengthened our policy to remove all trans-fats originating from PHO from our foods and beverages.”
He adds that today, 99.8% of the fats and oils they use meet their Nestlé Policy on Trans Fat. “This forms part of our commitment to making tastier and healthier foods, and helps fulfill our purpose of unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.”
Amidst the wide options of delicious food one can find online, how can a customer know what is healthy and trans-fats-free from what is not?
Dr. Ranulfo B. Javelosa, Jr., cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center, cites ways on how to personally avoid TFA consumption. “Avoid those deliveries, better to cook at home and have fresh fruits and vegetables,” he says. “You choose what you eat.”
While he considers the intention of helping their friends’ businesses in the time of pandemic, he advises asking first the seller if their products are made with ingredients that are high in trans fats ingredients, such as margarine, shortening, non-dairy creamers, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Bartolata advises buyers to only choose products that have declared nutrient content. But considering some start-up, home-based online businesses, many of which are not registered, there are no nutrition labels to speak of.
“If this is unavoidable to get products without nutrient labels,” Bartolata continues, “it will be helpful to recall which types of foods will most likely to contain trans fats (so we can avoid them).”
Being informed on what certain food products may likely contain trans-fat is one step closer to avoiding it completely.
This story was produced under the ‘(Un)Covering Trans Fats Media Training and Fellowship Program’ by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and ImagineLaw (IL). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and IL.