Time to say goodbye to toxic trans fats
Denmark became the first country in the world to limit the amount of toxic trans-fatty acids in foods such as frozen, canned, and baked goods in 2003. The policy saved two lives a day—or 700 lives each year—since it was implemented in 2004.
Wikimedia Commons

Time to say goodbye to toxic trans fats

Dinna Louise Dayao (Philstar.com) - November 14, 2020 - 2:52pm

(Last of two parts)

Bans on trans-fatty acids have saved lives in countries like Denmark and Argentina. Such a ban, if properly implemented, will protect Filipinos from the toxic fat. 


Like many Filipinos, Rizza Mauricio enjoys drinking milk tea. She only buys the cold and creamy drink from a shop about once a month, though. 

Instead, when she needs a milk tea fix, Mauricio, a registered nutritionist-dietitian, makes the drink at home. “This way, I can choose which type of milk—whether fresh cow’s milk, soy, or almond—to put in my drink,” she said. “I know what’s in my milk tea.” 

Mauricio makes the effort to use other kinds of milk, instead of the non-dairy creamer many milk tea bars use. Why? Because she knows that the creamer may contain trans-fatty acids (TFA). TFA is a toxic fat. It may lead to heart disease and diabetes, which may put people who consume TFA at risk for COVID-19 disease. 

Few Filipino milk tea lovers know that each cup they slurp may put their health at risk. It also doesn’t help that they need to be detectives to find out if TFA is hiding in their store-bought, bottled, or powdered milk tea. 

Here’s some good news. There is a way to protect all Filipinos from the harms of consuming TFA: ban the harmful fat from the country’s food supplies. 

The Trans Fat Free Philippines Bill, also known as “An Act to Protect Filipinos from the Harmful Effects of Trans-fatty Acids (TFA),” seeks to do just that. It aims to regulate the manufacture, importation, distribution, and sale of food products with high TFA content. These foods include nondairy creamer, doughnuts, deep-fried foods, commercially baked products, and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. 

Lives saved 

The World Health Organization aims to get rid of TFA from global food supplies by 2023. The move could potentially save some 10 million lives. The success stories of Denmark and Argentina show that TFA bans save lives. 

In 2003, Denmark became the first country in the world to limit the amount of TFA to 2 grams per 100 grams of fat or oil in all foods. The limit applies to domestic and imported products. 

Denmark’s law did save lives. Between 2003 and 2012, deaths due to heart disease in the country dropped by 41% from 359.9 to 210.9 per 100,000 people. One expert estimates that the Danish ban on TFA saved two lives a day—or 700 lives each year—since it was implemented in 2004. 

In Argentina, before 2004, TFA was found in most sweet or salty snack foods. Between 2004 and 2014, the country’s food industry voluntarily reformulated foods. It replaced about 40% of TFA from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with TFA-free sunflower oil. The country’s food code was amended. By the end of 2014, the TFA in food should not exceed 2% of total fats in vegetable oils and margarine and 5% of total fats in other foods. 

The results are impressive. Eliminating TFA prevented an estimated 301 to 1,517 cardiac deaths every year. As a result, a whopping US$87 million in healthcare costs per year were averted.  

Trend-setting Thailand

Thailand was the first country in Southeast Asia to impose a ban on partially hydrogenated oils in 2019. The process of hydrogenation produces TFA in these oils. Thailand is the third country in the world, after the United States and Canada, to impose such a ban.

Thailand’s ban was welcomed by a potato chips manufacturer, two fast-food chains, and a hypermarket that sold baked goods. All these companies said that they did not use oils with TFA to manufacture their food products.

Possible scenarios 

Congressmen Ronnie Ong and Alfred Delos Santos co-authored the Trans Fat Free Philippines Bill, which was filed on July 29, 2020. When the bill becomes a law, what effect will it have on foods that contain TFA?

Jake Brandon M. Andal is a clinical nutritionist-dietitian. He believes that the bill will force the food industry as a whole to “adhere to stricter regulations about TFA.”

He said, “There are existing production processes to remove TFA and replace them with other fats and oils without TFA.” For example, there are ways to make non-dairy creamer without TFA.

However, the food industry will only switch to these processes if it is required by law to do so. Andal said that when the bill becomes a law, there will be testing centers to check the TFA content of all foods. This will ensure compliance with the law. 

Players in the food industry will have to up their game. Joshua Alarcon thinks that “manufacturers of oils, fats, and emulsions with fat will be forced to adjust the TFA content of their products to meet the limit of 0.5 grams per 100 grams.” He is a food technologist at edible oil company Marca Leon. 

Fast-food restaurants will have to switch to canola oil and other healthier oils that are free from TFA like some US fast-food chains have done. Bakers will also have to choose healthier TFA-free oils, like olive and coconut, in preparing their products. 

Bakers may find ways to remove TFA from their goods. In Denmark, one baker found that a “scheme of temperature control during incubation of the fat and other ingredients” produced Danish pastries without any TFA.

Benelyn Dumelod is an assistant professor at the department of food science and nutrition, College of Home Economics, at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She believes that the law will force milk tea sellers to upgrade their products. “It might be an opportunity for them to serve better products, such as fruit purees, sherbets, and the like,” she said. 

The goal: consumer protection

For Andal, the bottom line is that the Trans Fat Free Philippines Bill becomes a law with teeth. “There is a need for us to lobby in Congress to institutionalize the requirement that all foods be made to have zero grams of TFA,” he said. The food industry needs to be responsible for removing TFA from its products.

When the bill becomes a law, it will remove this heavy burden from all Filipino consumers. It will also lighten the load of registered nutritionist-dieticians, like Mauricio and Andal, as they evaluate the health of their clients and advise them which foods to eat.

Read the first of two parts here.

This story was produced under the “(Un)Covering Trans Fats Media Training and Fellowship Program” by Probe Media Foundation Inc. and ImagineLaw. The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and IL.

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