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Canadian Public Health Association

Fighting the good fight!

Trans Fats in Prepared Foods

  • There are four types of fats in foods: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are considered healthy fats.
  • Saturated and trans fats can increase the risk of developing heart disease by raising bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
  • Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy. However, industrially produced trans fats that are made when hydrogen gas is added to vegetable oil during a process called hydrogenation. It is these latter trans fats that are of concern with respect to heart health.
  • Trans or hydrogenated fats give processed foods a longer shelf life.

Trans Fat Task Force

donut Canada was the first country to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fat. The Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods shows how much trans fat is in the food. Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada set up a task force which developed strategies for reducing trans fats in Canadian foods to the lowest level possible.

In 2007, Health Canada adopted the recommendations of the Trans Fat Task Force and urged the food industry to achieve the following goals within two years:

  • Limit the trans fat content of vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines to 2% of the total fat content; and
  • Limit the trans fat content for all other foods to 5% of the total fat content, including ingredients sold to restaurants.

cakeHealth Canada set up the Trans Fat Monitoring Program to analyze progress in a variety of foods from restaurants, fast food chains, cafeterias in institutions and pre-packaged foods.

The report on the last round of monitoring, which focused on small and medium sized restaurants, fast food chains and institutions such as high schools, CEGEPs, movie theatres, hospitals and universities, was released in December 2009. It found that 21% of french fries, 26% of chicken products, 50% of bakery products and 60% of cookies are still made with high levels of trans fats. It also found that approximately 80% of the prepackaged foods reviewed met the trans fat limit.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has called on the federal government to live up to the commitment made two years ago to regulate trans fats in Canada's food supply.

hamburger "This fourth and final round of monitoring has demonstrated that levels of heart clogging trans fats are still far too prevalent in our food," according to Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. "They can even be found at dangerous levels in foods in children's hospitals-the very places that are meant to improve the health of our children. Without government intervention, the trend will sadly continue."

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Healthier Food Choices in Manitoba Schools

Several provinces have instituted measures to establish healthy food policies in schools. For instance, in September 2009, Manitoba amended its Public Schools Act requiring food and nutrition policies for schools and banning the sale of foods with high levels of trans fats.

  • School boards are required to make sure artificial trans fats are not contained in packaged foods or other food products a school sells or distributes to students.
  • In addition:
    • vegetable oil or spreadable margarine used in the preparation of foods at a school must not exceed 2% of the product's total fat content; and
    • the trans-fat content of other foods, excluding meat or dairy products, must not exceed 5% of the food's total fat content.
  • Exceptions will be made for special circumstances. The legislation also requires a school's advisory council or local school committee to review food and nutrition policies at least once a year.

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