Trans Fats…the Hidden Poison In Our Foods. We Need to Take Action Now!

Thelma Alafia Samuels

Jamaicans have the right to the best quality, healthiest food possible, but most of us are totally unaware of the presence of trans fats – one of the most harmful ingredients hidden in many of the packaged, processed foods we eat every day.

Minister of Health Dr. The Honourable Christopher Tufton, shared in Parliament that the recent testing of 300 popular packaged products from local supermarkets and shops, revealed a whopping 40 percent of products tested positive for these dangerous trans fats. These trans fatty acids have been universally proven to cause heart disease and depression; and have also been associated with a higher risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes. 

This is dangerous because Jamaica already has a high rate of diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes in Jamaica has increased by 42 percent over the last 17 to 18 years; one in eight Jamaicans has diabetes and approximately four out of ten Jamaicans are unaware that they have diabetes.   (The Jamaican Health and Lifestyle Survey III (2016-2017); Government of Jamaica, Ministry of Health & Wellness, 2018)

The testing was carried out by the Bureau of Standards and Scientific Research Council and made possible by a Canadian funded University of the West Indies (UWI ) project which aims to monitor and improve dietary diversity in the Caribbean.

The levels of trans fats in our everyday foods is a clear and present danger.

In 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for the elimination of industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. The organisation reported that 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from the harmful substance by the end of 2021. But more than 100 countries still need to take actions to remove these harmful substances from their food supplies.

Jamaica needs to take action now.  Our policymakers need to urgently ban the manufacture, import, and sale of foods and raw material containing trans fats. Additionally, as consumers, we all need to be aware of what we are eating and demand that manufacturers be required to include all ingredients on labelling including front of package warning labels as has become a common practice in other countries. It is not only the labelling that is important. It might be a good idea for customers to check out how their food is made. Drum hand pumps for agriculture maintenance also help to avoid spills, chemical exposure, and agrichemical waste. Having all of these in place may also encourage potential customers to purchase healthier meals.

You may ask, why not just ask industry to do so without using legislation?  Well, the dangers of industrially produced trans fats are well known to industry.  These dangerous acids have been banned in the USA and Canada, our major trading partners.  In fact, to export to the USA and Canada, Jamaican exports MUST be free of trans fats. Yet, in Jamaica, our local manufacturers continue to import and sell products (perhaps unaware) that are high in industrially produced trans fats which shorten our lives.

We also know that voluntary reductions by the food industry are not as effective in removing industrially produced trans fats, so legislation is necessary.

What exactly are trans fats (TFAs)?

Industrially produced trans fats are cheap fillers which are added to foods during the manufacturing process to increase bulk and allow for a longer shelf life, but add no nutritional value.

Effect of trans fat in our diets

On average, industrially produced trans fats cause deaths from heart attacks to increase by almost one third (30 percent). Trans fats also increase depression, Alzheimer’s disease, cause a reduction in mental performance and are a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes.

What has been done?

The dangers of trans fats have been known for a long time.  Denmark was the first country to ban trans fats back in 2003, almost 20 years ago.

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