It's Your Health
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Scientific evidence has shown that dietary trans fats can increase your risk of developing heart disease. You can reduce this risk by choosing healthier foods that contain little or no trans fat.
Fat is an important part of a healthy diet because it provides essential fatty acids and energy (calories). It also helps your body absorb Vitamins A, D and E.
Fats and oils are made mostly of fatty acids. There are four main types of fatty acids. Most fats and oils contain a mixture of all four types, but such mixtures usually have a higher proportion of one particular type of fatty acid.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids - Many common vegetable oils (e.g., soybean, corn and sunflower oil), fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, smelt, herring and trout), fish oils, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, soybeans and some nuts (e.g., walnuts) contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fatty acids - Olive oil, canola oil, high oleic sunflower oil, avocados and certain nuts (e.g., cashews, pecans, almonds and peanuts) contain a high proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids - Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils, animal fats (e.g., pork and beef), butter, cheese and other dairy products contain a high proportion of saturated fatty acids.
Trans fatty acids - These are found naturally in small amounts in certain foods (e.g., dairy products, beef and lamb). Also, small amounts of trans fats are formed during the refining of liquid vegetable oils (e.g., canola and soybean oil). Trans fats are also created when manufacturers use a process called "partial hydrogenation." This process turns liquid oil into a semi-solid form, such as shortening or margarine.
Food products made with fats or oils with a high proportion of saturated or trans fatty acids have a longer shelf life than products made with oils that contain a higher proportion of other fatty acids. Saturated and trans fatty acids also play a role in producing the textures and flavours that make many bakery products and snacks so tempting. For example, it is the saturated and trans fatty acids that give pastries that "melt in your mouth" feeling.
In general terms, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids tend to lower your risk of heart disease. They are the healthier fats, and they should be included in your diet. Saturated and trans fatty acids are unhealthy fats because they tend to raise your risk of heart disease.
Trans fats do two things that raise the risk of developing heart disease:
Saturated fats also raise blood levels of "bad" cholesterol. However, at the same time, they also raise blood levels of "good" cholesterol.
Until recently, most of the trans fat found in a typical Canadian diet came from margarines (especially hard margarines), commercially fried foods and bakery products that are made with shortening, margarine or oils containing partially hydrogenated oils and fats. These products included crackers, cookies, donuts, cakes, pastries, muffins, croissants, snack foods and fried foods, such as french fries and breaded foods. However, the food supply is rapidly changing and the trans fat content of many of these products has now been reduced.
Trans fatty acids are also present at low levels (2 to 6% of the fat) in such foods as dairy products, beef and lamb. Some refined liquid oils may contain small amounts of trans fatty acids (0.5 to 2.5% of the oil).
The best way to minimize the risk of adverse health effects related to trans fat is to reduce your intake of foods that contain trans fatty acids.
Remember, saturated fat also increases your risk of developing heart disease. You can lower your intake of both saturated and trans fats by eating more vegetables and fruit, fish, shell-fish and other seafood, whole grain breads and cereals, peas, beans, lentils and nuts. It also helps to choose oils and fats that contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Finally, help your children develop healthy eating habits. Encourage them to eat healthy snacks that are lower in trans fats and saturated fats, and lead by example. Good snack choices for children include fruits and vegetables, milk, yogourt, and whole grain cereal and bakery products that are lower in trans fats and saturated fats
As part of its ongoing commitment to provide Canadians with the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices, the Government of Canada introduced mandatory nutrition labelling for pre-packaged foods. Since December 2005, this required that calories and the content of 13 core nutrients, including trans fat, be listed on the labels of most pre-packaged foods.
Canada was the first country in the world to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fat. The intent is to help consumers make healthy food choices, and since its introduction a number of food companies have reduced or even eliminated trans fat in their products.
In addition, Health Canada, along with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, worked through a task force made up of various stakeholders to develop recommendations and strategies for reducing trans fats in Canadian foods to the lowest level possible. In June 2006, the Trans Fat Task Force released its report, TRANSforming the Food Supply. The Task Force recommendations were to limit the trans fat content:
In June 2007, Health Canada adopted the recommendations and called on the food industry to reduce the levels of trans fats in foods to the recommended levels within two years. If significant progress has not been made by that time, Health Canada will develop regulations to ensure that these levels are met.
To ensure that the food industry is making progress in meeting the 2% and 5% limits, Health Canada will closely monitor the actions of the industry via the Trans Fat Monitoring Program. Results will be published on Health Canada's Web site to keep Canadian consumers informed about progress.
For more information on trans fats and healthier food choices, see the following publications:
For general information about heart disease, visit the Heart Disease - Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
For more on nutrition labelling, including information about the Nutrition Facts table, see It's Your Health - Nutrition Labelling.
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web site. You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*.
Updated: December 2007
Original: January 2005
ę Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2007