Experts have advised people to avoid all sorts of foods with trans fats to stay healthy during their confinement to home amid the nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the transmission of coronavirus.
Foods containing excessive trans fats are unhealthy which causes various diseases, especially heart diseases, they said, adding that intake of such foods now will increase the risk as people are now out of physical activities due to the shutdown.
The experts also urged the government to put emphasis on raising awareness among people in this regard and called upon Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) to promulgate regulations to limit trans fats in foods as soon as possible, even within this difficult Covid-19 crisis, since it will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) patients from developing severe illness during the pandemic.
The health experts and other stakeholders concerned called upon the country's big companies not to use trans fats more than 2 percent in foodstuffs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patients with heart diseases are more likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19 infection than those without that underlying conditions.
Around 277,000 people die each year in Bangladesh due to coronary heart diseases.
In Bangladesh, about 8,000 people die every year due to intake of high levels of trans fats, according to a research.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh still lags far behind in limiting the level of trans fats with no policy in place to regulate those in foods and minimise the death count, according to PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress).
WHO has set a global target of eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids from food supply chain by 2023.
About 30 countries, including India, Thailand, Iran, Austria, Norway, South Africa and Brazil, have already taken steps to determine the maximum limit of trans fats in foods while another 24 countries are in the process to lower the limit to 2 percent.
But Bangladesh is still far away from implementing the REPLACE action package announced by WHO in 2018 despite the target to eliminate trans fats by 2023.
Talking to UNB, Assistant Director of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) Enamul Hoque said industrially-produced trans fats, known as dalda or bonospoti ghee in local markets, are silent toxic killers.
A high-level of trans fats in foods increases the bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduces the good cholesterol (HDL) in the human body, he said.
"Intake of excessive levels of trans fats can cause plaque in blood vessels, disrupting the flow of blood, leading to early heart attack and resulting in premature deaths. Trans fats can often be found in processed foods, fast food, snacks, fried food items, biscuits, cookies, margarine and others. People usually take trans-fat items more during Ramadan," he added.
Enamul Hoque as people are now staying at home with limited physical activities, they should avoid such foods to stay healthy. "The food habit has changed due to the month-long holiday aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus. People are staying at home. So, awareness is very important now," he said.
He said they are working for formulating a policy and raising awareness among people.
"As Bangladeshi people are not aware of foods with trans fats, a policy is a must to this end. Companies have to be forced to implement rules of using highest 2 percent trans fats in foodstuffs," he added.
The BSTI official also added that Denmark completely banned trans fats due to the health risk. Although the USA does not fix any certain lever, they prioritise the demand of consumers.
BFSA Member Monjur Morshed Ahmed said their institution started preparing a policy in January last to bring the limit of trans fats in foods within the 2 percent limit.
"To find a way out for lowering the trans-fat level in edible oils and other food products, authorities have already formed a 10-member technical committee. The committee has held two meetings with experts, stakeholders and consumers," he said.