Nigerians consume oil every day as most of the food on the supply chain are being fried with vegetable oil, but how healthy is our vegetable oil, because our food speaks a lot about our state of heart, little wonder that most Nigerians are down with diseases. To raise our life expectancy, Nigerians need to recognize how healthy their vegetable oil is. The Executive Director, Nigeria Heart Foundation (NHF) Dr. Kingsley Kola Akinroye speaks with Omolara Akintoye on the need for government to be ready to manage outbreak of diseases, work towards 0% Trans-fat in our vegetable oils by 2030 and support policies that will promote a healthy nation, among other sundry issues
THIS organization has been here for a while, yet we have a lot of health issues in Nigeria, are we making any progress at all?
Yes the Nigerian Heart Foundation came into being looking ahead at our development here in Nigeria and Africa; it came into being unofficially in 1990 and officially in 1992. We were privilege to have a distinguished Nigerian who worked with World Health Organisation, (WHO) Professor Adeoye Lambo who was the first African to work as the Deputy General of WHO and was able to see what was going to be in the following century, the focus of WHO as at then was on Infectious disease but from his desk, reaching him was that Africa was going to be into the epidemic of non-communicable diseases especially cardiovascular diseases (heart disease). By that time the American Heart Association was in existence for almost more than 50 years but there was no Heart Foundation in Africa at that time. This is just a background to how NHF came into existence.
A public health issue today that is generating a lot of attention across the globe is what is referred to as Trans fats or Trans fatty acids, not many Nigerians understand what it is all about?
Causes of heart disease can either be developmental or can be due to what is referred to as risk factors of heart disease which are issues that can directly or indirectly damage heart disease. In 2011, UN did recognize this is the fact that we are now in a very dangerous situation and some factors were initially identified as causes of heart disease, namely: Unhealthy diets; Tobacco; sugar and finally lack of physical activity, but central to all these is the unhealthy diets which is a common factor. Out of all the unhealthy diets is our sugar intake: sugar in our diets, beverages and the manufacture sugar which we consume. Another is the unhealthy fat which we consume as well as our salt intake, so you recognize some factors in Nigeria and in Africa in the diets that damages the heart, even from the womb.
Fat is very bad for the heart because the heart itself is like a balloon and the balloon that pumps out blood we have the balloon outlet which are the blood vessels, and when you consume too much fat, science believes those channels are blocked by fats and when this happens, they narrow the blood circulation to the heart which can lead to heart attack or can increase the blood pressure.
Trans Fat is also a product found in the body which when consumed in high content raises the unfriendly cholesterol which is the low density cholesterol and can lead to heart attack and it decreases the friendly cholesterol. So this is what has come to the fore the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes that the level of trans fat in full especially all over the world and more in developing countries is rising, and because of the rise in the content of trans fat in the food there is now a regulation that by 2030, we must ensure that we eradicate Trans fat in all the food products available all over the world and Nigeria is a signatory to this statement. So it can occur naturally and can occur artificially, it can be found in milk product, meat product for natural product but it is more common in artificial products which are produced industrially. The industrial production of Trans fat is common in manufactured vegetable oil.
How can a lay man identify vegetable oil that contains artificially produced Trans-fat?
As far back as 2003, the NHF in partnership with NAFDAC have been working on all vegetable oil in the Country scientifically and in the area of research and we have data which we have done on it. We have instituted what is referred to as the Nigerian Heart Foundation Food Labeling Program, it’s a voluntary program recognized by most National Heart Foundation across the globe. Countries like America, British, S/A have similar program. This program is available to all industries that want to subject the products they are producing to come and get the heart mark label.
To get the label, you have to satisfy the criteria which are international criteria and we’ve also partnered with NAFDAC in that area. There is a special logo on such vegetable oil with approval from the Nigeria Heart Foundation. But for you to get the logo, you must come in voluntarily, that is the number 1 criteria-NAFDAC approval. Second, you must allow NHF to subject your product to analysis in any part of the world, so we take the product and send it to our own Independent True Laboratory, the Trans Fat content of your vegetable oil must be between 0-1 gram, as of now we are in 1 gram, but by 2030 in Nigeria, NAFDAC/NHF will not accept any product that have a trace of trans fat. We are working towards 0% Trans fat in our vegetable oils by 2030.
Is it the act of using the vegetable oil to fry our food that is the problem or what?
Most of the industrially produced oil contains Trans-fat, therefore, ensure that your oil is free of trans fat. Second, ensure that you use the vegetable oil to fry your food once because the process of frying food with vegetable oil changes the chemicals inside it and can make it to be very dangerous to the heart.
Is there any alternative to Trans-fat on the food supply chain?
There is no alternative, just like tobacco, whatever is bad is bad, we should work towards having no trans-fat in our food by 2030. Most of the food we have on the street: pastries, yam, beans cake, etc, we use oil, so everyone consume oil everyday especially in Africa and we want to raise our life expectancy, all these are very important, we need to take care of the heart and the only way is to increase the awareness hence we have the ‘Heart mark labeling’ a simple way for people to recognize how healthy their vegetable oil is. The illiteracy level of Nigerian is high but a lay man can recognize the heart mark label, a mark that says the product is certified NHF/NAFDAC let me buy the product. We are creating awareness in that area even at the grassroots, if we get to that level then everyone will be aware of what is called Trans fat.
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