Why countries must eliminate trans-fatty acid from food

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The World Health Organization has a plan to eliminate artificial trans fatty acids from the global food supply within the next five years. The idea is fairly simple: Governments should require that artificial trans fats - like margarine and ghee - to be replaced with healthier fats and oils. In the decades that followed, food companies began incorporating partially hydrogenated oil into their products because it increased the shelf life of baked goods and facilitated an easier way to make buyer-friendly food textures.

According to World Health Organization data, several high-income countries have virtually eliminated industrially-produced trans fats through legally imposed limits on the amount that can be contained in packaged food.

New York City eliminated industrially-produced trans fats a decade ago, following Denmark's lead.

"You don't need to change the taste or cost or availability for great food". Natural trans fats are only produced in small quantities in the gut of some animals, while artificial trans fats are much more common and are created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. But trans fats remain widely used where regulators and food makers have been slower to take action.

The WHO recommends that no more than 1 percent of a person's calories come from trans fats.

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In India, for example, researchers have found high concentrations of trans fats in street food and in packaged snacks, many of which have no warning labels.

In the US, the first trans fatty food to hit the market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911. "Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard", writes the Associated Press' Mike Stobbe for the Washington Post.

It has asked governments to implement six strategic actions to ensure the "prompt, complete, and sustained elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from the food supply". They used them in doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

Trans-fats increase levels of LDL-cholesterol, a well-accepted biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk, and decreases levels of HDL-cholesterol, which carry away cholesterol from arteries and transport it to the liver, that secretes it into the bile. In addition, many countries have not explained the health risks that these fats pose.

The WHO is now pushing middle- and lower-income countries to pick up the fight, said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

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The agency also called on the government to put in place legislation or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fats.

"Implementing the six strategic actions in the Replace package will help achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease".

Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.

Originally popularized after the negative impacts of saturated fatty acids were discovered, trans fats have fallen out of favor as their own health effects have gained prominence.

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