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Trans fat, a known trigger for heart attacks, causing thousands of premature deaths globally every year, has been found in tremendously high quantities in almost all popular Indian cooking oils.
Laboratory tests conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on seven vanaspati brands, 21 different brands of vegetable oils (soybean, sunflower, groundnut, mustard, coconut, olive, sesame and palm), desi ghee and butter available in Indian markets found that trans fat levels were five to 12 times higher than the world’s recommended standards in all vanaspati brands.
According to the latest recommendations, trans fat in oil should not exceed 2% of the total oil. However, the study found trans fat levels to be as high as 23.7% in the case of Panghat vanaspati brand and 23.31% in the case of Raag vanaspati . Rath vanaspati had 15.9% trans fat, Gagan had 14.8%, Jindal had 13.7% while Gemini had 12.7% trans fat content.
Interestingly, the lowest trans fats level was found in desi ghee and in Amul butter — 5.3% and 3.73% respectively.
Trans fat occurs when liquid oils solidify by partial hydrogenation, a process that stretches food shelf life and changes safe unsaturated fat into a killer. It is known to increase bad LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels and reduces beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also trigger cancer, diabetes, immune dysfunction, obesity and reproductive problems.
In 2005, all restaurants in California went trans fat free voluntarily. In 2008, the US government made it mandatory. The following year, even New York banned trans fat.
Scientists say an increase of 5 gm of trans fat a day is equivalent to a 25% increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Shockingly, say CSE researchers, even while Indian food regulators have accepted trans fat as a serious health concern, they are delaying setting the standard, presumably under pressure from the edible oil industry. As a result, India has no regulation to check the content of trans fat in oil.
Sunita Narain, CSE director, said, “If you consider what the Union ministry of health has issued in the name of labelling nutrition facts, 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.”
In 2004, the health ministry’s oils and fats sub-committee, under the Central Committee for Food Standards, begun discussions on a standard for trans fat. 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,” CSE said.
Instead of standards, in September 2008, the health ministry issued a notification for labelling of trans fat 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% trans fat. This would mean that the product has 15 times higher trans fat than the Danish standard. This makes a complete mockery of the science of food regulations,” Narain said.
Sources: The Times Of India
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