Opinion

Why government trans fat bans won’t help you

The US FDA moves to ban trans fats. Nutritionist Theresa Albert on how you can get a head start at home.

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Theresa Albert is a Toronto-based nutritionist, author and media personality, whose practical, real-life healthy eating solutions have been helping families live better for nearly two decades.

Yesterday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved to ban all trans fats, which prompted many to suggest that Canada should follow suit. Even though I’m a nutritionist, I don’t really care if they ban trans fats in the US or here in Canada. I know that might seem shocking, but here we go again with trans fats in the news as the FDA now “begins the process of banning” this awful substance (which will take years, by the way).

Back in 2007, Canada was the first to announce mandatory labelling and promised to work harder at removing trans fats from food products. Manufacturers read the tea leaves on this topic, prompting many of them to remove the trans fats and replace them with palm oil. Here’s the thing: Palm oil isn’t any better. It is a highly saturated fat that also could increase cholesterol and some indications are that it actually increases appetite. Not only that, the harvesting of palm oil is wreaking havoc on rainforests.

Oh, man! Now you are with me, right? Who cares if they ban it? The only thing you can do is avoid the foods that may contain it, or, for that matter, its cousin like palm oil or anything containing the word “hydrogenated.” You should be anyway. I’m sorry, but there is no getting around the fact that packaged cookies, crackers, granola bars and microwave popcorn most likely contain one or the other of these ingredients.

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Don’t wait for the government to do it or for manufacturers to comply. Your very own trans fat ban looks like this:

• Bake at home. Use butter in moderation, instead of shortening, lard or margarine (even the “non-hydrogenated” kind).

• Know that in Canada, a product can still be called “trans-fat-free” if it has .2 g per serving. (Which is still too high. From a health perspective, the closer to zero, the better.)

• If you buy packaged treats, make them once a week treats.

• When you read labels, read the ingredient list, not the nutrition facts. You are looking for real, whole food in the top three spots. If sugar or palm oil or any fat other than butter is in there, move on.

• Choose snacks that have the shortest list ingredients possible.

• Avoid deep-fried foods, whether the oil used is “trans-fat-free” or not, it can produce dangerous aldehydes which are concerning

Whether or not the FDA or Health Canada go all the way to ban trans fats from your foods, you should be.