January 2005 Edition
Healthwise: The Truth About Trans Fat

by Suzanne Berryman, R.D.

Health Care Manager, Sysco Food Services of Atlantic Canada



The newest health concern in the Canadian Diet is “Trans Fat.” So what exactly are trans fats? What effect do they have on our health, and why should we be concerned about them?


Trans fat or Trans fatty acids are created when liquid vegetable oils are exposed to high temperatures under pressure with hydrogen to make a solid fat. This is a process called “hydrogenation,” and a fat that undergoes this process is called hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is used by the food industry because the resulting fats are relatively inexpensive and most importantly can improve the shelf life of food.


Foods that contain hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. This can include any number of foods that we eat including vegetable oil shortenings, margarines, crackers, bakery products - cakes, pastries, muffins, cookies, pies and breads, snack foods such as potato and corn chips, microwave popcorn and many other ready to eat foods.


Currently, not all trans fats must be listed on the nutrition label. However, Canadian regulations will require that trans fats be listed on the Nutrition Facts label by 2006 (2008 for smaller companies). The nutrition label will list the total fats, saturated, trans fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat per serving. If a nutrition facts panel is not available, look at the ingredient list on the food label. If the ingredient list contains the words “shortening,” “partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” the food contains trans fat. And remember, ingredients are always listed in descending order from most to least in a food product.


There is strong evidence to support the adverse effects of trans fat on health, particularly in the area of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Canada. Trans fats act the same way in the body as saturated fats. Both trans fats and saturated fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. There are other fats that are beneficial to health: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that increase our good cholesterol (HDL). It is important not only to focus on reducing trans fats in our current diet, but to also reduce the amount of saturated fats in our diet as well, in order to reduce our overall health risk.


As a foodservice operator, you can be of great help to your customers that are watching their trans fat intake by having a good understanding of the products that you use. Be sure to offer a non-hydrogenated margarine (Sysco Non-Hydrogenated Margarine for example) and be aware of the types of fats that you use to prepare dishes. Do they contain hydrogenated or trans fats? If so, canola oil and olive oils are healthy fats, and tasty substitutes, that can be used to prepare foods for your health conscious customers. ¨