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What are Trans Fats?

Topics Covered: Issues related to health.

What are Trans Fats?

Why in News?

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan were among countries that need to act urgently against trans-fat, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

What has the WHO said?

  1. Industrially produced trans-fats are found in hardened vegetable fats such as margarine and ghee (clarified butter) and are often present in snack foods, baked goods and fried foods.
  2. The substance is responsible for around 500,000 deaths due to coronary heart disease every year across the world. 15 countries account for two-thirds of the deaths linked to the substance.
  3. It is, however, often used by manufacturers because it has a longer shelf life and is cheaper than other, healthier choices that do not affect taste or cost.
  4. So far, 58 countries introduced laws to protect 3.2 billion people from the substance by the end of 2021. But more than 100 countries still needed to take action to remove trans-fat from their food supply chains.
  5. None of the low-income or lower-middle-income countries have yet implemented best-practice policies, while seven of their upper-middle-income and 33 of their high-income counterparts did so.

What are Trans fats?

Trans fatty acids (TFAs) or Trans fats are the most harmful type of fats which can have much more adverse effects on our body than any other dietary constituent.

These fats are largely produced artificially but a small amount also occurs naturally. Thus in our diet, these may be present as Artificial TFAs and/ or Natural TFAs.

  • Artificial TFAs are formed when hydrogen is made to react with the oil to produce fats resembling pure ghee/butter.
  • In our diet the major sources of artificial TFAs are the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO)/vanaspati/ margarine while the natural TFAs are present in meats and dairy products, though in small amounts.

Harmful effects:

  • TFAs pose a higher risk of heart disease than saturated fats. While saturated fats raise total cholesterol levels, TFAs not only raise total cholesterol levels but also reduce the good cholesterol (HDL), which helps to protect us against heart disease.
  • Trans fats consumption increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
  • It is also associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, infertility, certain types of cancers and can also lead to compromised fetal development causing harm to the yet to be born baby.

Why they are increasingly being used?

TFA containing oils can be preserved longer, they give the food the desired shape and texture and can easily substitute ‘Pure ghee’. These are comparatively far lower in cost and thus add to profit/saving.


Efforts to reduce their intake:

  1. FSSAI put in place a regulation in 2016 halving the permissible quantum of trans-fats in edible fats and oils from 10% to 5%.
  2. WHO launched a REPLACE campaign in 2018 for global-level elimination of trans-fats in industrially produced edible oils by 2023.
  3. FSSAI has set 2022 as the deadline.
  4. FSSAI plans to cap TFA at 3% by 2021 and 2% by 2022 in edible fats and oils.
  5. FSSAI launched a “Trans Fat Free” logo for voluntary labelling to promote TFA-free products. The label can be used by bakeries, local food outlets and shops for preparations containing TFA not exceeding 0.2 per 100 g/ml.


Prelims Link:

  1. What are trans fats?
  2. Why they are harmful?
  3. How and where they are produced?
  4. What is the permissible limit set by WHO and FSSAI?
  5. Replace Campaign is related to?
  6. About FSSAI.

Mains Link:

What are Trans fats? Why are they harmful? Discuss.

Sources: down to earth.