This Valentine’s Day: Follow your heart & avoid trans fat


Dr. Jerome MAFENI 

VALENTINE’S Day revolves around sweet treats. While boxes of chocolate and fancy dinners may be on your mind, listen to your heart! Your dietary decisions can affect your heart health – and many of the pastries, sweets and fried foods consumed by Nigerians during this special day contain a toxic chemical that causes heart disease and kills more than 1,200 Nigerians in a year.

Trans fat is a type of fat that occurs at unhealthy amounts in the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are often used in packaged, processed and baked goods – your favourite biscuits, perhaps, the margarine you cook with, or the confectionary you gift your loved one. 

Consuming this type of fat increases “bad” cholesterol and lowers “good” cholesterol. It is proven to cause coronary heart diseases as well as dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases.

More than 537,000 people die globally per year from trans fat consumption, the American Heart Foundation estimates, using 2010 data. That includes 1,261 Nigerians. 

Good nutrition should be a right for all Nigerians, regardless of social status. Yet more needs to be done to ensure that the foods we eat on Valentine’s Day – and every day – are safe.

Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on world leaders to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. At least 29 countries have taken action already – from Thailand to Brazil, the United Kingdom to the United States. Last month, our National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) proposed to limit trans fat to 2 grams per 100 grams of fat in the foods we eat – broadly in line with WHO recommendations. 

The Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) in part of a civil society coalition that has called for a #TransFatFreeNigeria, and supports NAFDAC’s regulatory steps. “We are also calling on the agency to clarify and increase penalties to encourage companies to use healthier alternatives to trans fat     

We all want to enjoy the foods we love – without having to worry about toxic chemicals in them. So as you sit down for dinner with your Valentine this year, take care of your heart – and insist that others do the same. Avoid PHOs if you can – but also encourage NAFDAC to finish the job and finalize trans fat regulations swiftly.

Stay healthy, live long and join me in calling for a #TransFatFreeNigeria

Dr. Jerome Mafeni is a technical advisor of the Campaign for the Elimination of Trans Fat, and will answer questions about trans fat 2-3PM this Thursday, February 13, on twitter  @transfatfreeNG