Trans fat

Smart choices for your health

Fat is an important part of a healthy diet. It provides essential fatty acids and energy, and helps the human body absorb vitamins A, D and E.

The four major types of fatty acids in food are polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are generally regarded as "good" fats, saturated and trans are generally regarded as "bad" fats. Scientific evidence has shown that dietary trans fats can increase your risk of developing heart disease. To combat this you can choose food for yourself and your children that contains little to no trans fat.

Trans fats naturally occur in small amounts in certain foods (such as dairy products, beef and lamb). Trans fats can also be created through a process called "partial hydrogenation" -- where liquid oil (for example, soybean and canola) is turned into a semi-solid form such as shortening or margarine. These so-called "industrially produced" trans fats are the major source of trans fats in processed and pre-packaged foods.

Where are trans fats found?

Historically, most trans fats have been found in such things as crackers, cookies, margarine (especially hard margarine), donuts, cakes, pastries, muffins, croissants, snack food and fried and breaded foods. Both the introduction of mandatory nutrition labelling on pre-packaged foods, and the two year recently completed Trans Fat Monitoring program have led to a reduction in the trans fat content of many, but not all foods.

What are the health effects of trans fats?

Trans fats raise blood levels of so-called "bad cholesterol" (LDL-cholesterol). LDL-cholesterol is a factor in heart disease. At the same time, they lower blood levels of so-called "good cholesterol" (HDL-cholesterol), which protects against heart disease.

To minimize the risk for your children

  • Follow the suggestions in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. The guide advises you and your children to choose lower fat dairy products, leaner meats and foods prepared with little or no fat.
  • Read the labels on pre-packaged food products. Since December 2005 it has been mandatory for most foods to list on the Nutrition Facts table the amount of trans fat in the product.
  • Also look for the phrase "partially hydrogenated oil" -- if you see this phrase in the list of ingredients on the label it means the product contains trans fat.
  • Choose soft margarines that are labelled as being free of trans fats or with ingredient lists including fully hydrogenated or non-hydrogenated oil. Avoid products made with partially hydrogenated oil.
  • Fry foods less often and use healthier oils with a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats.
  • Do not re-use oil for frying more than two or three times.
  • When you eat out, ask about the trans fat content of the foods on the menu.
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