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Limit harmful trans fats to less than 1% of dietary calories: WHO

Saturated fatty acids (SAFs) that come from butter, meat, and tropical oils (palm oil, coconut oil, canola) should comprise not more than 10% and Trans fatty acids (TFAs) found mainly in processed food not more than 1% of your daily calorie intake, recommends World Health Organisation’s (WHO) draft guidelines launched on Friday.

The recommendations are applicable to both adults and children. WHO reviewed its draft guidelines on the intake of unhealthy fat found mainly in processed foods— a risk factor for developing noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, diabetes etc. that kill over 35 million people annually.

“These are latest guidelines based on scientific evidence,” said Dr Francesco Branca, director, WHO department of nutrition for health and development. WHO’s priority areas for reducing noncommunicable diseases include tobacco, alcohol, physical inactivity and poor diet.

Poor diet generates a larger burden of disease than the other three risk factors combined. It accounts for an estimated 11.3 million deaths annually, compared with 2.1 million for low physical activity, 6.1 million for tobacco smoke and 3.1 million for alcohol and drug use.

The problem predominantly reflects an unhealthy global food environment dominated by processed foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and, crucially, industrial TFAs, which is why WHO decided to come up with guidelines to protect people from risks associated with its consumption.

Industrial TFAs are added to processed or packaged food, mainly to prolong shelf life and enhance taste and texture at a low cost.

What is worrisome is that even poor have started landing up at hospitals and clinics with symptoms of heart diseases. A recent survey of about 500 healthy people in a Delhi slum found one in two to be overweight.

This survey was conducted by experts from Batra Hospital and Amity Institute of Public Health. The Amity researchers collected and analysed the data for over three weeks, and faulty eating habits was one of the contributing factors for obesity and being overweight.

Since the 1990s, research evidence has accumulated demonstrating that TFA consumption substantially increases people’s risk of coronary heart disease. It does this mainly by elevating harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and decreasing protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

TFAs may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers, and worsen insulin sensitivity, thereby increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“There could be other sources of fats as well in your diet but when it comes to these harmful fatty acids, people need to reduce their intake,” said Dr Chizuru Nishida, coordinator, nutrition policy and scientific advice unit, WHO department of nutrition for health and development. The draft guidelines will be available on WHO website for public comments till June 1, 2018.

Key recommendations

* Saturated fatty acids should not comprise more than 10% of your daily calorie intake.

* Trans fatty acids should not comprise more than 1% of your daily calorie intake.

* Use heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) as replacement.