Health experts raise flag on hydrogenated oils, trans fats

ARE you salivating on that margarine as you wait to smear it on your piece of bread?

Be warned.

Health experts are now raising a red flag on excessive consumption, warning that Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO) may contain large quantities of unhealthy trans fats that have a potential of raising cholesterol and result in health complications.

The experts further warned that such trans fats are linked to the increased risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

According to Dr Fredirick Mashili from the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), hydrogenated oil is used to preserve the shelf life of food, yet it was still alarming to see the health effects that lurk on end users.

“These trans fats can increase cholesterol levels which are risk factors for heart disease,” observed Dr Mashili, who is also a researcher in Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), here yesterday.

The trans fats have recently been identified as the cause of heart attacks and strokes, an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and infertility in women.

Such fats are said to be harmful on the human circulation system, causing a rise in levels of bad cholesterol and a decline in levels of good cholesterol.

Dr Mashili who was also presenting on the PHO market mapping in East Africa, disclosed that the regional economic bloc lacks good practice policies to guide the elimination of trans fatty acids, even when the World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to urge governments to ban its use.

“Products containing PHO are so popular in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, with the former being the largest consumer,” detailed the health expert.

Expounding on the findings of the one-year mapping, Dr Mashili however revealed that local production of PHO was shrinking in Tanzania.

According to Dr Mashili, a popular brand of margarine available in the region was imported from outside the East African Community (EAC), having a market share of 30 per cent in Tanzania alone.

The health expert further pointed out that supermarkets were identified in the market mapping to be key importers of prepackaged foods, and much as informal producers of PHO containing products were in existence, it was still difficult to monitor them.

Dr Mashili observed further that although the bureau of standards among EAC partner states had the power and mandate to regulate such products across the region, there was the issue of conflict of interest in approaching the issue.

Mr Talibita Moses, a Ugandan lawyer on his part urged EAC partner states to pass laws that will protect citizens.

“It is high time we put an end to deceiving adverts from customers, we should alternatively promote our own healthier dishes,” he said.

In his rejoinder, Dr Mwinyikondo Amir from the Health Ministry’s NCD department said the national Non Communicable Diseases strategy, had to a larger extent addressed the issue of unhealthy fats, including trans fats and is responding to the WHO target of eliminating industrially produced trans fats by the year 2023.

“We might not hit the target, but lots of efforts are being made towards the target,” he assured.

In a set of guidelines issued by the UN health agency, trans fats should be eradicated from global food supplies by 2023, potentially saving 10 million lives.

These types of fats have been altered to be more like saturated fat and are therefore more solid at room temperature.

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