To cut the risk of cardiovascular disease, Singapore will be introducing a law to limit the use of trans fat in all foods including fats and oils sold in retail outlets. This is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s REPLACE action package to eliminate artificial trans fat from global food supply by 2023.
What is trans fat?
Trans fat is a type of fats that is found to be associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia. There are two main types of trans fats:
Natural trans fats
Small amounts of natural trans fats are found in beef, lamb, dairy products such as milk and cheddar cheese.
Artificial trans fats
Artificial trans fats come mainly from partially hydrogenated oils. These oils are produced commercially by passing hydrogen through liquid vegetable oil under high pressure. Not only do they enhance taste and texture, they are also cheap to produce and can last for a long time. This is why they are often added to packaged or baked foods such as pastries, biscuits, cookies and cakes to extend their shelf lives. Restaurants and fast food outlets may also use partially hydrogenated oil to deep fry foods because the oil can be used repeatedly.
A large proportion of trans fats in our diet come from partially hydrogenated oils. In fact, some of our guilty pleasures such as pizzas, potato chips, fried chicken and doughnuts are packed with artificial trans fats. The main sources of trans fat consumed by Singaporeans are from spreads, instant noodles, instant meals, baked goods and snacks.
Why is trans fat bad for health?
Artificial trans fats are worse than saturated fats. Besides increasing levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol which can lead to blockage of blood vessels causing stroke or heart attack, artificial trans fats also reduce levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol which acts as an agent that protects our blood vessels from damage caused by LDL-cholesterol and removes LDL-cholesterol from our blood vessels. In addition, artificial trans fats can cause inflammation and increase risk of developing diabetes.
Can I eat cookies, pizza, cakes etc. without worry after the law is introduced?
The answer is no, unfortunately. The use of partially hydrogenated oil may be banned but baked products and deep-fried foods will still be high-fat, high-calorie and high-sugar. Regular consumption of these high-calorie foods is associated with weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Instead of curry puff, you char kway, epok epok or vadai, opt for fresh fruits or raw/baked (unsalted and unroasted) nuts and beans (e.g. edamame) as your snacks.
Consider replacing your favourite spread with fresh avocado, tahini or pure peanut/almond butter (with no added sugar and oil). Or try dipping your bread in olive oil with balsamic vinegar for a change. These are low in saturated fat (‘bad’ fats) and rich in monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat (‘good’ fats).
Make your own potato fries or favourite snacks at home using an air fryer or oven with minimal oil.
Check the Nutrition Information Panel for trans fat content. Read the ingredient list and look out for ‘partially hydrogenated oil’.
Willett, W. C., & Skerrett, P. J. (2011). Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating(Reprint edition). Free Press.
About the Author: This article is written by Ong Sik Yin for Jaga-Me. Sik Yin holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Flinders University. She is an Accredited Dietitian of Singapore (Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association) and an Accredited Practising Dietitian (Dietitians Association of Australia). She is an advocate of building a supportive ecosystem and conducive environment to promote health and wellness. She has over 10 years of experience providing nutritional advice and sharing her knowledge in hospital settings and public forums.
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