The Ban on PHOs

You may have heard or read about the ban on artificial trans fat; to be more specific, it’s actually a ban on PHOs. From June 2021, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be banning all partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as an ingredient in all foods in Singapore. This ban applies to both imported and locally manufactured food products. Countries such as the United States, Canada and Thailand have already introduced similar bans since 2018.

What Are PHOs?

PHOs are formed when vegetable oils undergo partial hydrogenation—an industrial process that hardens the vegetable oil—so that the oil is more stable and has a longer shelf life. Food manufacturers have traditionally used this process to prolong the shelf life of food products.

Fat spreads such as peanut butter may contain artificial trans fat.

What Do PHOs Have to Do with Trans Fat?

PHOs are the main dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. Margarine, for example, was once widely known to be a hallmark product that contained trans fat, but this is no longer the case today. This is due to a regulation that went into effect in 2013, limiting trans fat to no more than 2g per 100g product for fats and oils supplied to food manufacturers, food and beverage establishments, and those sold in retail outlets.

The four categories of food products that are likely to contain PHOs are:

  1. snacks, e.g. potato chips
  2. baked goods, e.g. sweet biscuits/cookies, cakes, pastries
  3. prepared meals e.g. frozen pizzas, instant noodles
  4. fat spreads e.g. peanut butter, nut spreads
Among these, it is estimated that less than 10% currently contain PHOs.


What Is FHO? Is It the Same as PHO?

FHO stands for fully hydrogenated oil. It refers to oil that has undergone the full hydrogenation process. While PHO and FHO are both oils, they are not the same. FHO is firmer than PHO and doesn’t contain trans fat. It does, however contain saturated fat which also increases our risk of cardiovascular heart disease. As such, FHOs should also be avoided or consumed in limited amounts.

What’s the Reason Behind the Ban?

Extensive research since the 1990s has led to the conclusion that trans fat not only offers no health benefits, they are actually detrimental to our health. Trans fat is ‘double trouble’ as it increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol, thereby increasing our risk of heart disease.

We know that not all fats are bad for us. Trans fat, however, can truly be considered the ‘super-villain’ of fats. It’s so bad, that in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on all member countries to remove all artificial trans fat from the food supply.

Artificial Trans Fat?

That’s right. Trans fat can come from both natural and artificial sources. As mentioned earlier, PHOs are the main dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. Natural trans fat can be found in minute amounts in dairy products and red meats such as beef and lamb.

Artificial trans fat is the main source of trans fat in our diets. The objective of the PHO ban in Singapore is to eliminate artificial trans fat from our food supply. The Health Promotion Board recommends that members of the public limit their trans fat intake while still maintaining a nutritionally adequate diet.

Learn to read the nutritional label and avoid food products that contain artificial trans fats.

5 Things You Should Do to Limit Your Trans Fat Intake

The ban on PHOs in Singapore will be effective from 2021. If you are worried about your intake of trans fat, here’s what you need to start doing now.

#1 Learn to Read Food Labels and the NIP

The food labels are there for a very good reason; it helps consumers make informed choices when purchasing food products. Start by checking the ingredient list for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated oil” and “partially hydrogenated shortening” as these are sources of artificial trans fat.

The Nutritional Information Panel (NIP) provides more detailed information on the nutritional value of a product. This includes the energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, dietary fibre, sodium and, of course, the trans fat content.

#2 Look Out for the Healthier Choice Symbol

The HCS logo is a lifesaver for any shopper looking for healthier food choices. Did you know that there are six different variants of the HCS logo? Products that contain less than 0.5g of trans fat per 100g of fat are labelled “Trans Fat Free”.

#3 Buy Less ‘Junk Food’

You are now aware of the products that tend to contain trans fats. While less than 10% of these products currently contain PHOs, it might be best to reduce your intake of such foods. Food products such as potato chips, cookies and frozen pizzas should be consumed in moderation.

#4 Choose Healthier Oils

Do you love to cook? Use healthier cooking oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil when preparing food for yourself and your loved ones. Not sure which oil is right for you? Learn about the different types of cooking oils and what they are suitable for, whether it’s for deep frying, sautéing, or just drizzling over colourful salads.

Try to eat healthier, home-cooked meals as much as you can. If you hardly eat at home, look out for healthier options when dining out.

#5 Less Red Meat, More Fruits and Veggies

Natural trans fat can also be found in red meats so try to limit your intake of beef or lamb and get your protein fix from plant-based products such as nuts, soya bean, and lentils or lean meats like chicken or fish instead. Fill up on fruits and vegetables. Not only do they boast a range of essential vitamins and minerals that are indispensable to our health, they’re also great for weight management.

While it’s impossible to eliminate trans fat from our diets completely, we can limit our trans fat intake and maintain a healthy diet that provides all the nutrition our bodies need. Eating healthy is simple and easy.

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