Partially Hydrogenated Oils (a.k.a. Trans Fats) Will Soon Be Illegal in Canada

CC BY 2.0. Kiran Foster

Health Canada has announced a ban, effective next year, that will affect the entire food industry.

Health Canada has announced a ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a main source of artificial trans fats. The ban, which will go into effect on September 15, 2018, giving the food industry time to comply, will affect all foods sold in Canada, whether domestically produced, imported, or made in restaurants. At that point, it will become illegal to sell any food containing PHOs in Canada. (The United States passed a similar ban several years, pledging to eliminate PHOs by 2018.)

PHOs are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes it to become solid at room temperature. Shortening is a partially hydrogenated oil, for example. The food industry likes using it because:

"This partially hydrogenated oil is less likely to spoil, so foods made with it have a longer shelf life. Some restaurants use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in their deep fryers, because it doesn't have to be changed as often as do other oils." (via Mayo Clinic)

Trans fat, however, is considered to be the worst fat because it raises 'bad' cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), while lowering the 'good' (high-density lipoprotein). It was downgraded to "no longer generally recognized as safe" by the FDA in 2013. A diet high in PHOs, and, therefore, trans fat, increases the risk of heart disease, which is currently the second leading cause of death in Canada, responsible for 29 percent of all deaths. (Numbers are comparable in the U.S., with heart disease linked to 1 in 4 death and killing 616,000 people in 2016.)

store bakery

Flickr -- Store-bought baked goods contains lots of partially hydrogenated oils./CC BY 2.0

Said Canada's Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, in an official statement:

"I am pleased to deliver on our Government’s commitment to promote public health and make it easier for all Canadians to choose healthier foods. Eliminating the main source of industrially produced trans fat from the food supply is a major accomplishment and a strong new measure that will help to protect the health of Canadians.”

Currently, in Canada, if a food contains less than 0.2 grams trans fat, it can be labelled as containing none. (In the United States, a nutrition label can say 0g trans fat if the amount is actually less than 5 g.) If a food items contains partially hydrogenated oil, you should be able to identify it in the ingredient list.

Ban or no ban, trans fat is something to avoid as much as possible. Watch for it in store-bought baked goods (cookies, cakes, pie crusts, and crackers), snacks (tortilla and potato chips), refrigerator dough (canned biscuits, cinnamon roll dough, frozen pizza crusts), ready-to-use frostings, creamers, and margarine.