Monday, March 26, 2012

Trans fat restrictions from May 2012

Singapore residents eat out a lot in coffee shops, hawker centres and food courts. Actually, according to the 2010 National Nutrition Survey, 1 in 2 residents in Singapore eat out in these places every day! Food here are cheap and if you have a dinner here, you do not spend your evening by cooking and then washing the dishes. Actually, around the HDB estate I leave, hawker centres and coffee shops are always full and many elderly people eat nearly all their meals in these places instead of cooking.

One reason for the popularity of these outside eateries is the prices: food may be very cheap in these places. But eating here comes with its price : food in hawker centres and coffee shops as well as food courts are very unhealthy! Although the ingredients they use here may not be against any health law, the mix and the content of the outside food is unhealthy. Most stalls around my neighborhood as well as around my workplace offer food floating in a fat pool! Eating out so often exposes Singaporeans to too much trans fat whose consumption increases the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.

Trans fat naturally occurs in animal-based fats in small amounts and these were once the only trans fats people consumed. But the largest amount of trans fat consumed today is created by the processed food industry as a side effect of partially hydrogenating unsaturated plant fats, generally vegetable oils. These partially hydrogenated fats have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas, the most notable ones being in the fast food, snack food, fried food, and baked goods industries. They can only be made by cooking with a very high heat, at temperatures impossible in a household kitchen.[1]

How much trans fat is unhealthy? Actually every bit of trans fat is unhealthy since it is not essential for humans and have no known benefit to health and every increment in its consumption increases the risk of coronary heart disease. They are there in your food and very popular among restaurants and hawkers just because they are cheaper, help the restaurants to shorten deep-frying, as they can resist higher temperatures and can be used for longer than most conventional oils before becoming rancid. But there is a very high cost everyone else pay, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally and is projected to remain so. It has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries. Every year, heart disease and stroke causes as many deaths as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and diabetes plus all forms of cancer and chronic respiratory disease combined. Everyday, 15 people die from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) in Singapore. Cardiovascular disease accounted for 31.9% of all deaths in 2010. This means that 1 out of 3 deaths in Singapore is due to heart disease or stroke.[2] Actually, heart disease epidemic which has started in mid 20th century owes its strength most probably to the wide spread use of trans fats.

Trans fats are used in every country but they probably are most dangerous in Singapore where people on average eat out much more than the people in other countries where hawker food is not popular at all. For this reason from May 2012, new limits of trans fat usage will be mandated to all supermarkets, cooked food outlets and food makers in Singapore. All cooking oil will be allowed to contain only 2 gr of trans fat per 100 gr. Some outlets are already doing better. For example fast food chain McDonalds says that they do not use any trans fat here in Singapore.

But as we have written above, any amount of this fat is harmful so the best way to avoid exposing your health to it is to reduce the number of times you eat outside, especially in hawker centers and food courts. According to Health Promotion Board, 30 percent of people here eats more than 2 gr of daily limit. These people eat out a lot and eats a lot of commercially baked and fried foods.

[1] - Wikipedia, Trans-fat
[2] - Singapore Heart Foundation

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