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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 65  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 71-75  

Industrially produced trans fat: Usage, health implications, global and indian regulations

1 PhD Scholar, Department of Home Science, University of Delhi, Delhi, India
2 Associate Professor, Department of Home Science, Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India
3 Lead Expert, Science and Standards Division, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Delhi, India

Date of Submission10-Jul-2020
Date of Decision12-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance01-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication20-Mar-2021

Correspondence Address:
Anita Malhotra
Department of Home Science, Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi, Delhi - 110 052
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijph.IJPH_851_20

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Global momentum is growing for the total elimination of industrially produced trans fats from the food systems as they are known to have deleterious health effects on various body functions particularly the cardiovascular health. Many developed nations such as Denmark have completely eliminated the use of industrially produced trans fats from the food supply. India is undergoing a significant nutrition transition that has substantially increased the intake of processed and ready-to-eat foods, abundant in trans fats. The Indian regulator-Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is all set to reduce the industrially produced trans fats to <2% by the end of year 2021 in a phased manner. Multiple strategies such as reducing trans fat limit in oils and fats, mandatory labeling on food products, introduction of “Trans-fat free” claim and logo have been adopted by the Indian regulatory body, to achieve the goal of trans fat free India. This review comprehensively summarizes from a public health perspective the usage of industrially-produced trans fats in Indian food industry, its effects on health, the global strategies to limit its content, and the current Indian regulations.

Keywords: Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, global regulations, industrially produced trans fat, mandatory labeling, trans fat free

How to cite this article:
Chopra S, Arora C, Malhotra A, Khurana SC. Industrially produced trans fat: Usage, health implications, global and indian regulations. Indian J Public Health 2021;65:71-5

How to cite this URL:
Chopra S, Arora C, Malhotra A, Khurana SC. Industrially produced trans fat: Usage, health implications, global and indian regulations. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Sep 20];65:71-5. Available from:

   Introduction Top

“Trans fat” has been the buzzword in the food industry and public health care for a long time now. The food industry has been using trans fats since 1960s due to their functional properties such as plasticity, emulsion stability, and low cost, which make them a mainstay in commercially produced processed food items such as margarines, vegetable shortenings, bakery products, and other snacks and fast food.

In the nineties, research evidence started linking industrially produced trans fat consumption with the risk of developing coronary heart disease-a fact that subsequently became well established and built a public health thrust for their total elimination from the global food supply. Many high-income nations such as Canada, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland have taken a series of policy, regulatory, and industry-based initiatives to limit its consumption.[1] The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced to completely remove trans fats from the food supply by 2023.

Low- and middle-income countries are also taking necessary steps in this direction. The Indian regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has taken bold and realistic initiatives to reduce the trans fat content in all oils and fats, including vanaspati, bakery shortenings, and margarines to <2% by the end of 2021. A number of practical and effective measures such as introducing trans fat limit, mandatory labeling on food products, introduction of 'Trans-fat free' claim and logo have been taken in this direction of achieving the goal of trans-fat free India.

The aim of this review is to encapsulate from a public health perspective the usage of industrially produced trans fat in the food industry, its implications on health, the global strategies to limit its content, and the existing Indian regulations.

   Trans Fats: What, Where, and Why? Top

Trans fats are described as “all the geometrical isomers of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids having nonconjugated, interrupted by at least one methylene group, carbon-carbon double bonds in the trans configuration.”[2] In simpler words, they have at least one methylene group, carbon-carbon double bond in the transconfiguration rather than the typical cisconfuguration.

The origin of trans fat is extremely important while considering their physiological effect. The naturally produced trans fatty acids (TFAs) occur in meat and dairy products as a result of anaerobic fermentation in the gut of ruminant animals and do not generally harm the human body. On the other hand, the industrially produced trans fats are formed through partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils or fish oils and cause adverse effects on human health.[3],[4] Trans fats are also formed to some extent during deodorization of vegetable oils in the refining process. The main source of industrially produced trans fat is the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (PHVO) and the processed foods prepared from such fat.[5]

The PHVO, margarine, and bakery shortening have functional properties such as longer shelf life, low cost, ability to withstand repeated heating, and better plasticity which give them an edge over butter and other fats, and as such their use in bakery products, fried foods, and snacks has become extensive.[6]

   Trans Fat Usage in India Top

India is passing through a phase of nutrition transition with a greater emphasis on eating out, ready-to-eat foods, convenience food, and processed food.[7] This change in dietary behavior is associated with rise in the consumption of both edible oil and PHVO. An increased intake of saturated fat and trans fat coupled with a lower intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has been reported in India.[8]

Moreover, the Indian cuisine involves extensive fried food preparations. Food items such as pakoda, samosa, kachori, puri, and vada and fried sweets such as gulab jamun, laddus, and jalebi are commonly produced in restaurants and food outlets using vanaspati (PHVO) as the source of fat. Extensive use of vanaspati, bakery shortening, and margarine has also been reported in bakery products especially biscuits.[9] Moreover, commercial baking and deep frying leads to the formation of trans fat to an extent ranging from 0.2% to 1%.

PHVO has a stronghold in the Indian market due to its low price besides the benefits of taste and longer shelf life. This is one of the prime reasons that the food industry while formulating, processing, and labeling food products pays limited attention to the evidence that trans fat consumption is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

   Health Implications of Trans Fat Consumption Top

There is a growing body of epidemiological and biochemical evidence to show that even at low levels of consumption, TFAs have a deleterious effect on human health.[10],[11] Globally, nearly five lakh people die every year from coronary heart disease due to the consumption of TFAs–which is a matter of grave concern for public health experts and policymakers.[12],[13]

Extensive research has been carried out on the influence of TFAs on human health, and their removal has been repeatedly labeled as the “low hanging fruit” in the global prevention of noncommunicable diseases.[14] Prospective cohort studies have shown that TFAs also disturb the metabolic signaling pathways by adversely affecting lipid levels, triggering systemic inflammation, inducing endothelial dysfunction and increasing visceral adiposity, body weight, and insulin resistance.[15] Trans fat consumption may also be associated with some forms of cancer and diabetes.[16] There is also growing evidence for a possible role of trans fats in the development of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline with age.[17]

The deleterious effects of trans fats on various body systems are summarized in [Table 1].
Table 1: Harmful effects of trans fats on various body functions

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   Global Public Health Strategies to Limit Trans Fat in the Food Supply Top

The battle against noncommunicable disease is an important priority from public health perspective. Industrially produced trans fats are causative but modifiable factors contributing to the burden of cardiovascular disease. In developed countries, trans fat consumption has been brought within the maximum recommended intake, but the intake status in developing countries of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East is unclear due to the paucity of reported data.[18] At present, one-third of the global population in 28 countries is safe from the harmful consequences of trans fat; but in a large majority of countries where policies are not in place to eliminate trans fat, more than two-third of the population is still at the risk. Overall, people in most countries exceed WHO recommendations of trans fat consumption which should be <1% of total energy intake.[19] Therefore, the WHO is steering the momentum at the global level to eliminate trans fat from the food supply.[20]

Public health interventions adopted to limit trans fat are national bans (reducing trans fat from the food supply chain), local bans, voluntary limits (controlling trans fat in fried foods at restaurants), and mandatory labeling (aiming at packaged products).[21] However, these population-based policy interventions can succeed only through consistent industrial support.[22] At present, eliminating industrially produced trans fat through mandatory food laws and regulations is being recognized as an evidence-based, economical, and effective tool to limit trans fat in the food supply.[23] The regulations on trans fat limits across the globe are depicted in [Table 2].[20]
Table 2: Regulations on trans fat limits across the world

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Second model for limiting trans fat aims at reduction in the consumption of partially hydrogenated oil that was also dropped in 2015 from “generally recognized as safe” sources.[2] In response, countries such as the United States and Canada started recognizing partially hydrogenated oil, as an unsafe food additive and a contaminant; and restricted its use in food industry and restaurants. Globally, the WHO aims at the elimination of trans fat from the food supply chain by 2023. The effective implementation of these limits is a complex interplay at the policy, manufacturer, and consumer level.[4]

   Transitions in Global Regulations on Limiting Trans Fats Top

Trans fat became popular in the 1960s for enhancing the palatability and texture of food products. In 1990s, research evidence started associating its consumption with the risk of developing coronary heart disease.[24] In response, some countries formulated voluntary limits and the legislative regulations followed. Among the European countries, Denmark (2003) was the first to initiate the Danish voluntary agreement with margarine producers setting the upper limit as 2 g per 100 g in fats and oils or as an ingredient.[25] In 2006, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States initiated mandatory labeling of on the nutrition labels, expecting reduction in heart related deaths.[26]

Countries such as Belgium, Germany, Netherland, Poland, Greece, and the United Kingdom participated in voluntary bans that followed. New York became the first American city to ban trans fat from its restaurants.[27] Although voluntary limits have been successful in the reduction of trans fat consumption, the effects have been disproportionate across the food categories.[19] Gradually, legislative national limits of <2% of trans fat in oils and food products were formulated by many countries (Austria, Chile, Ecuador, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Iran, and Singapore).[23]

The country-specific dietary recommendations across the world also started addressing trans fat consumption.[14] European Food Safety Authority (2009) recommended trans fat intake to be minimized without compromising the daily intake of fats and oils.[28] WHO (2009) recommended replacement of partially hydrogenated oil with vegetable oils at the industrial level as a successful strategy in limiting trans fat consumption.[29] Countries such as the United States and Canada brought regulations on the use of partially hydrogenated oil by food manufacturers and restaurants. Globally, WHO aims to eliminate industrial trans fat from the food supply chain by 2023 as a part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to reduce the burden of noncommunicable disease to one-third by 2030.[30]

   Indian Regulations on Limiting Trans Fats in Food Supply Top

The burden of noncommunicable disease and the resultant mortality being huge in low- and middle-income countries such as India calls for immediate action. Responding to this public health priority, FSSAI has taken long strides over the last five years, to establish trans fat limits using the international limits by WHO, other countries' experiences in adapting the limits, risk assessment of Indian diets, and feasibility. Strategies such as introducing trans fat limit and mandatory labelling on food products were adopted. Initially, a trans fat limit of 10% was notified for different fats and oils (vanaspati, shortening, margarine, and interesterified vegetable fat), which was further reduced to 3%[31]. FSSAI is in the process of bringing down the limit of trans fats to 2% in all edible oils and fats such as vanaspati, bakery shortenings, margarine, interesterified vegetable fats, refined vegetable oils, and fat spreads in a phased manner by the end of 2021.[32] The limit of not more 2% of total oils/fats present is prescribed for food products in which oils/fats are used as ingredients from January, 2022.

   Mandatory Trans Fat Labelling on Packaged Food-Global Regulations Top

For packaged food, FDA (2006) of the United States passed regulations on mandatory nutritional labelling of trans fat for conventional food and supplements. Recommendations on trans fat include listing of source of trans fat in ingredients, labeling under saturated fat as “Trans” or “Trans fat” and content expressed in grams per serving. In case, the content is <0.5 g per serving, it can be declared as 0 g. When there are no claims about fat content on the label, zero trans fat can be mentioned as “No significant source of trans fat” at the bottom of the nutrient value table. Since there is no daily value (DV) of trans fat intake, % DV can be kept blank.[2]

The industrial application of these recommendations is still disproportionate across food categories, especially in the unorganized sector. A study reported that only one-third of packaged food labels mentioned the source of trans fat in the ingredient list and less than one-fifth reported the percentage of trans fat or made “trans fat free” claims.[33] Mandatory labeling has shown significant reduction in TFA containing food products and lowering of serum plasma TFA level by 54%–58%.[34],[35] The success of any intervention at the consumer level is based on the nutrition education programs and awareness campaigns.[33] The government should support these campaigns to strengthen the regulations at the consumer level.

   Indian Regulations on Trans Fat Labeling on Packaged Food Top

As per provision in the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labeling) Regulations, 2011 every package of oil (edible oils, interesterified vegetable fat, both hydrogenated or PHVO, edible fats, margarine and fat spreads (mixed fat spread and vegetable fat spread) and food product (using fats, oils, and fat emulsions as an ingredient) shall declare the quantity of trans fat content on the label (FSSAI, 2018a).[36] In case of oils, the claim of “Trans fat free” may be made when the trans-fat is <1 g per 100 g or 100 milliliters of edible oils/fats.[37] In addition, the food establishments which use trans-fat free fats/oil and do not have industrial trans fat more than 0.2 g/100 g of food, can display “Trans fat free” logo in their outlets and on their food products. The use of the said logo is voluntary.[38] As labeling regulations apply only on packaged food products, reaching the unorganized sector, street food vendors and kiosks would still be a challenge in the socioeconomic context.

   Future Roadmap to Eliminate Trans Fat through Global Public Health Collaboration Top

Food industry is increasingly becoming more receptive to the fact that it is possible to replace industrially-produced trans fat with healthier oils and fats without compromising on the taste of food or its cost. Globally, the WHO has collaborated with the Resolve to Save Lives (an initiative of Vital Strategies – a leading global public health organization) to launch the REPLACE action package. It is a global initiative and a tool defining necessary actions to be taken to eliminate industrial trans fat from the national food supply chain. The package focuses on replacing the industrially produced trans fat through policy and regulations, effective monitoring systems, and creating awareness among all stakeholders-policy-makers, food industry, and the consumer.[4],[20] The six strategic action areas that need to be targeted by the government for complete and sustained elimination are depicted in [Table 3].
Table 3: Six strategic action areas of REPLACE

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The framework to replace industrial trans fat is promising in maximizing the health benefits at a global level, but its feasibility in low-income settings is still unclear.

   Conclusion Top

High consumption of industrially produced trans fat is driven by taste, availability, favorable properties, and economics. Considering trans fat consumption as a significant but modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and prevention of noncommunicable disease as an important public health priority, many legislative and regulatory policies have been devised in different countries to effectively achieve trans fat free status by 2023. Ensuing this global trend, the Indian regulator-FSSAI is all set to eliminate the industrially produced TFAs to <2% by the end of year 2021 in a phased manner through multiple strategies such as reducing trans fat limit in oils and fats, mandatory labeling on food products, and introduction of “Trans-fat free” claim and logo. These regulatory measures will go a long way in eliminating industrially produced trans fat – a silent risk factor for noncommunicable disease from the food supply and thereby save many lives.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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