• Prof Gerald Yonga, a Nairobi-based cardiologist, said many brands of margarine and butter in Nairobi are laden with unacceptable levels of trans fats.
• Head of the IILA Celine Awuor said the current legal notice on trans fats in Kenya is not enforceable because it does not give a clear limit.
The government plans to eliminate trans fats, an unhealthy fat mostly found in solidified cooking oils.
It is considered the worst type of fat anyone can eat.
The World Health Organization has said such fats increase the risk of heart disease, a leading killer of adults in Kenya.
The Ministry of Health has said Kenya is working within the WHO’s strategy to eliminate trans fats, also called trans fatty acids (TFA), by 2023.
“Kenya supports WHO ban on trans fatty acids and we have a legal notice on the same, but have not stipulated the levels as required by the WHO,” Leila Akinyi, the deputy head of MoH division of nutrition and dietetics, said.
Trans fats are formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil, which causes it to solidify at room temperature.
They are mostly contained in solid vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snacks such as biscuits, cakes, roadside chapatis and other fried foods.
Manufacturers often use trans fats as they have a longer shelf life than other fats, and keep foods tasty.
However, healthier alternatives can be used that do not affect the taste or cost of food.
In Kenya, WHO said trans fats are responsible for 1.5 per cent of all deaths from coronary heart disease.
Akinyi said there is a misconception that only old people are at risk of heart disease.
“The 45-69 age group have the highest NCDs risk of 26.5 per cent,” she said at a meeting in Nairobi on Monday.
Kenya has a 2015 legal notice banning trans fats from cooking oil. However, the notice is vague and does not specify unacceptable upper limits, said Nairobi-based International Institute for Legislative Affairs, which is assisting the ministry create a better regulation.
IILA boss Celine Awuor said the current legal notice is not enforceable because it does not give a clear limit.
“During compliance, if you have a limit you can test and tell and ascertain the products we have comply with the regulation. The limit also makes it easy for the information to be communicated to the public,” she said.
She noted that WHO recommends that trans fat intake does not exceed one per cent of total daily energy intake.
“By 2021, 32 countries have mandatory laws to end these oils. In Africa, only South Africa has a mandatory TFA limit,” she said.
Prof Gerald Yonga, a Nairobi-based cardiologist also involved in the project, said many brands of margarine and butter in Nairobi are laden with unacceptable levels of trans fats.
He carried out a preliminary study of six local brands, some that were found to have more than the recommended maximum 0.5 grams of trans fats for every 100 grams of oil.
“The trans fat content in the six samples already analysed ranged from 0 to 0.95 per cent, the highest being in solid fats,” Yonga said.
The WHO launched a global campaign to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply in 2018.
“Action has been largely concentrated in wealthier countries, and countries with fewer resources continue to be disproportionately at risk of preventable deaths from trans fatty acids. This is unacceptable and unnecessary,” WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom said in the 2020 WHO Report On Global Trans Fat Elimination.
Edited by A.N