The big announcement came on September 15—“Minister Petitpas Taylor is pleased to announce that Health Canada has taken the final step to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the main source of industrially produced trans fats—in all food sold in Canada.”
The announcement goes on to say:
“Trans fats raise “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lower “good” (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels in the blood. By banning PHOs, Health Canada will reduce trans fats in the Canadian food supply to the lowest level possible, which will help reduce Canadians’ risk of heart disease.”
So there it is, the announcement I have waited for since I was a nutrition student at the University of Toronto. I should be happy but of course I am not. What would have made me happy? This announcement:
“Man-made fats have proven to be one of the worse public health mistakes ever, they have contributed to heart disease and have affected the life span of many Canadians…do not eat man made fats including margarine and shortening, toss that crap in the garbage and eat butter, it’s been around since time began the ingredient list is short and it is the devil you know.”
No, I do not work for the Dairy Industry and there is no profit to me if you eat butter but my family members will tell you for years they would walk quickly past a margarine or shortening display rather than buy something and risk one of my voice of doom rants about man-made fats. It was at University that I first heard of Professor Bruce Holub a nutrition scientist at the University of Guelph and the first scientist I ever heard speak about the potential dangers of trans fats in the human diet. His research always made perfect sense to me mostly because I wanted it to. Butter tastes good, requires minimum processing and has a short ingredient list that I do not need my science degree to read, for me that makes it a top choice.
I mention Professor Holub only to point out that the dangers of PHOs and trans fats are not new, but as a Canadian researcher he may not have pulled heavy media attention at the time, then along came the Harvard School of Public Health with this statement:
“In 1981, a group of Welsh researchers speculated that trans fats might be linked with heart disease. A 1993 Harvard study strongly supported the hypothesis that intake of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contributed to the risk of having a heart attack.”
So we had some knowledge in 1981 and pretty definitive scientific evidence by 1993 and now we are giving the food industry enough time to get ready for a ban in 2018!
You can hand the Food Industry your heart health while they reformulate, but I think you may want to stop using margarine or shortening right now and avoid any baked goods or fast foods that contain PHOs.
I can already hear you saying it: “But Maisie there are lots of margarines on the market with 0% trans fats and no PHOs, we can still buy those.” No you can’t, In Canada and the USA Zero is not really Zero. In Canada anything under 0.2 grams of trans fat can be labelled as zero, in the USA it is 0.5 grams. So up to 0.2 grams or put another way, up to 200 milligrams of trans fat is not really zero is it? When Cholesterol was the big fear anything over 300 milligrams would freak us out but somehow because trans fats are listed to look small we think we are really getting zero, that is a win for the food industry and a failure on the part of Health Canada.
Another failure on the part of Health Canada? A whole lot of Canadians will be looking for PHO’s on the label, few will be looking for the word ‘Modified’ but Health Canada makes it clear in this link: modified/hydrogenated, that these are one and the same. So do not be fooled you will see a lot of margarines with Modified Palm and Palm Kernel Oils, combine that with the zero trans fat levels that are really not a zero at all and you will understand why I say, take a pass, buy butter, just use it in moderation.