Hydrogenated vegetable oil, popularly known as Banaspati ghee, in Dhaka contains five times the global average of trans-fatty acid (TFA) level, putting public health at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, according a study.
Some 92 percent of the partially-hydrogenated oils (PHO) samples collected from Dhaka city were found having TFA levels above the 2 percent limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The average TFA level in the samples was 11g per 100g. Even some samples showed a staggering high concentration of TFA, 20.9g per 100 grammes, which is more than 10 times the WHO-set threshold.
Banaspati ghee is commonly used in Bangladesh to prepare fried snacks, baked goods, restaurants foods and street vendors' food items.
Researchers from the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute (NHFHRI) have found such alarming results after analysing the samples of leading brands in Dhaka City.
Professor Nazma Shaheen of the Institute of Nutrition & Food Science at the University of Dhaka and Research Advisor Abu Shamim Ahmed provided research support.
The report of the research titled 'Assessment of Trans Fat in PHOs in Bangladesh' was disclosed at a press conference jointly arranged by NHFHRI, Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) and PROGGA in association with Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) at the Jatiya Press Club on Saturday.
The researchers and experts at the function urged the government to take regulatory action to reduce the TFA level taking the WHO recommendations into account for the sake of public health.
Presenting the research findings, Dr Sohel Reza Choudhury, a professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Research of the NHFHRI, said market retailers throughout capital were interviewed by the research team and four brands, most commonly used by bakeries and restaurants for preparing food, were identified.
A total of 24 samples of the four brands were collected from wholesale markets and production factories.
The chemical compounds of those samples were subsequently analysed and identified in collaboration with Portugal-based National Health Institute Food Chemistry Laboratory. The TFA levels of these samples were measured using gas chromatography method.
He said there was a vast variation in the TFA levels found within the same brands where seven samples of one brand contained TFA levels ranging from 0.69g to 14.5g.
"This research demonstrates that there are products in Bangladesh that contain dangerous levels of TFA, posing increased risks of heart diseases and deaths from such diseases. In order to protect the public health from TFA, the government must take legal or regulatory measures and limit TFA to maximum 2g per 100g in all fats, oils, and foods," said Sohel Reza, also a key member of the research team.
GHAI Bangladesh's Country Lead Muhammad Ruhul Quddus said, "India, Thailand, Brazil and many other countries have already formulated policies to regulate TFA in food products following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). Bangladesh has already taken a policy decision for the same. The findings of this research will surely accelerate the process of promulgating policies on trans-fat regulation," he said.
Industrially adding hydrogen (hydrogenation) to vegetable oils (palm, soybean, etc.) condenses the oil into a semi-solid form and simultaneously produces trans-fat TFA (trans fatty acid).
These industrially produced trans-fat poses great hazards to public health. Consumption of excessive TFA is strongly associated with increased risk of severe coronary heart diseases, death from heart diseases, dementia and cognitive impairment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that excessive intake of industrially produced TFA is responsible for more than 500,000 heart disease deaths globally. Around 277,000 people die of heart disease each year in Bangladesh. Considering the grave health risks involved, WHO has set eliminating industrially produced TFA from the global food supply by 2023 as one of its priority targets.
CAB Programme Coordinator Ahmed Ekramullah and PROGGA Executive Director ABM Zubair also spoke on the occasion, said a PROGGA release.