Trans Fats – Food’s Latest Villain

Health Canada recommends that all Canadians reduce the total amount of fat they consume, particularly saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats, typically solid at room temperature, are found in sources such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, and fatty meats. Trans fats (also known as trans fatty acids) are fats that form when liquid fat (oil) is changed to a semi-solid form (margarine and shortening) – a process called hydrogenation. Most trans fats are found in fried foods, such as french fries and potato chips, and baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, crackers, and donuts. Trans fats also occur naturally in small amounts in some foods, such as meats and dairy products.

Saturated and trans fat consumption is linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and a greater risk for heart disease. While both fats increase LDL (bad cholesterol), saturated fat also increases HDL (good cholesterol), whereas trans fat decreases it. Therefore, a higher intake of trans fat increases the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) to a greater extent.

While Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that not more than 30% of one’s diet should be from fat, with not more than 10% from saturated fat, there is currently no recommended daily intake for trans fats.

Stella Pharmaceutical Canada Inc. has worked diligently to modify and decrease the amount of trans fat in all our products. It should be noted that Health Canada has different labeling requirements for food products (such as Nutribar snack bars) and meal replacement products (such as Nutribar shakes). Food products are required to have a "Nutrition Facts" table, with the amount of trans fat declared within the table. Meal replacements follow very specific labeling requirements and must provide a "Nutrition Information" panel instead, without a trans fat declaration. Having said that, all Nutribar products are trans fat free, with less than 0.1 g of trans fat per serving.

Trans fat is still a concern for many, especially the link between trans fat intake and cholesterol. Although some fat is essential for good health, trans fats are not essential fatty acids and the body does not require them to maintain good health. The negative effects this fat may cause have people thinking otherwise.

Keep in mind that even with the removal of all the trans fat from prepared food, it does not necessarily make the food more nutritious. It is important to look at the whole picture. What is the overall fat content? How much salt or sugar is in the product? What is the calorie content? If you have a product that is zero trans fat, but remains high in fat, calories and/or sugar, that food may still be a greater villain than trans fat alone.

Hydrogenated fats that are used by food production are used mostly for functional reasons. Those reasons could be to protect the product against rancidity, thus preserving freshness and aiding in the appearance or extending shelf life of the finished product. Not only the look, but also taste is usually enhanced. Normally, only a small amount is required for a favourable outcome. Small enough the concern is minimal.