Trans fat comes in two forms – naturally occurring in meat or dairy products, and industrially produced in oils, spread and margarines. The majority of the trans fat that Canadians eat is industrially produced 1 trans fat from hydrogenated oil, margarine, and shortening.
- Partially-hydrogenated oil such as vegetable oils used for frying, baking and cooking
- Partially-hydrogenated margarine and other soft spreads
- Pre-fried foods such as french fries, oriental noodles, taco shells, and doughnuts
- Baked goods such as pies, cakes, cookies, and pastries
- Packaged foods such as pancake mix, salad dressing, and snack puddings.
Researchers estimate that eating 5 grams daily of trans fats over an extended period of time can raise the risk for cardiovascular disease by 25 per cent 2.
Regulating Trans Fat Labelling and Content in Food
The federal government has jurisdiction over the regulation of trans fat in pre-packaged foods. Labelling of trans fats on most pre-packaged foods became mandatory in 2005 in Canada. Labelling is not required for food sold by food service establishments (e.g., restaurants).
In June 2006, Health Canada's Trans Fat Task Force recommended limiting trans fat for all foods sold to consumers. The Trans Fat Task Force recommended the food industry restrict the trans fat content to:
- two per cent (2%) trans fat or less of the total fat content of vegetable oils and soft spreadable margarines;
- five per cent (5%) or less of the total fat content in all other foods, including ingredients sold to restaurants.
Due to the production of a small amount of trans fat during the cooking and/or processing of prepared foods, it is impossible to eliminate 100 per cent of trans fat in the total fat content.
BC Trans Fat Regulation
In British Columbia, the Public Health Impediments Regulationrestricts industrially produced trans fat in food service establishments. This regulation came into effect September 30, 2009. Under this regulation, all food service establishments in the province must meet three regulatory requirements for all food located on the premises, used in preparation, served, or offered for sale:
- Documentation for food must be kept on site and be provided to the Environmental Health Officer upon request (ingredient lists, Nutrition Facts table or product specification sheet) for all food in the establishment.
- All soft spreadable margarine and oil must meet the restriction of 2 per cent trans fat or less of total fat content.
- All other food must meet the restriction of 5 per cent trans fat or less of total fat content.
Trans Fats Resources
Resources for industry
- Trans Fat Help – Developed in collaboration with the Heart & Stroke Foundation to support the food industry to understand and implement the regulation. Materials are available in Chinese, Punjabi, Korean, Farsi, and Vietnamese.
Resources for the public
- Restricting Trans Fat: A Consumer Guide (PDF 505K) - Often ‘trans fat-free’ foods are mistaken as healthy foods despite being often high in fat, sugar, and salt. Information to help consumers understand how to choose healthy menu items in food service establishments.
- Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC is available online and by calling 8-1-1 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday to answer trans fat and other diet and nutrition-related questions.
Two policies support the restriction of industrially produced trans fat in key settings:
1 Industrially produced trans fats are formed during partial hydrogenation, a process to support hardness and stability to liquid vegetable oils. Dairy and some meats contain small amounts of natural trans fat. No evidence of harm from trans fat in these foods has been identified.
2 Testimony submitted at October 30, 2006 hearing before the New York City Board of Health by Walter Willett, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.