Though Canadians get kudos for reducing total intake of fat over the past 20 years, we still have one of the world’s highest rates of trans-fat consumption. “It’s estimated that Canadians consume eight grams of trans fat a day,” says Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and author of Foods that Fight Disease. That’s about 10 percent of our daily caloric intake, when it ideally should be no more than one percent.
It’s clear that an extreme makeover on our trans fat–rich diets is in order. “Read the label,” recommends Beck. “Since December 2005, nutrition labels have had to list the amount of trans fat in products. In restaurants, it’s more difficult to avoid. Stay away from deep-fried foods, or ask what kind of oil they’re using.”
A number of companies have reformulated their products by swapping partially hydrogenated oil for a healthier type of oil. And those “trans-fat free” products that line grocery shelves now? In order to have that label, they must contain less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving, and no more than two grams of trans fat and saturated fat combined. So, yes, they’re healthier than processed foods of the past, but that still doesn’t make them health food.
And although you may think you’re home free because your fave french-fry joint has switched to a trans fat–free oil (a plant-based one such as peanut or canola), consider that a regular order of fries still has almost 800 calories and 40 grams of fat. “There are a lot of companies jumping on the trans fat–free bandwagon,” says Beck. “It’s just a marketing tool to get people to buy products.” Indeed, some companies proudly making trans fat–free claims on their food labels never even had trans fat in the first place. No wonder we’re confused.
Thankfully, governments are slowly stepping in to clear some of the factual fog surrounding trans fat and are introducing legislation to limit its use. Last June, Health Canada gave the green light to recommendations made by the Canadian Trans Fat Task Force. The regulations, to be phased in by 2010, will see the allowable amount of trans fat in margarine, muffins, doughnuts and other goodies capped at two percent of the total fat content. For all other foods, trans fats will be restricted to five percent of total fat content. And when dining out, the West is best: on Jan. 1, Calgary became the first Canadian city to regulate the use of trans fats in restaurants. Watch for others to follow suit.
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