Artificial trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are officially banned in Canada – starting today.
PHOs are the number one source of trans fat in the Canadian diet, which – like saturated fat – can increase the amount of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (aka "bad" cholesterol) in the blood. At the same time, it decreases the body's supply of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (or "good" cholesterol).
"This is a very important milestone in terms of nutrition policy in Canada," the director of health policy and advocacy at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Manuel Arango, announced in response to the news, CBC News reports.
"What it means is that, moving forward, industry will not be able to manufacture or use partially hydrogenated oils that create artificial trans fats in the food supply. It will be completely prohibited in Canada."
The move, which is 15 years in the making, will see PHOs added to the "List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances" – a list that also includes petrolatum, paraffin wax, and mineral oil. This makes it illegal for manufacturers to add PHOs to their products and will apply not only to food produced in Canada but to any food brought into the country for sale, including those for use in restaurants.
It also marks the beginning of a three-year phase-out plan. While it might now be illegal to use PHOs in food production, food that has already been produced will still be found for sale on supermarket shelves for a little longer.
"The consumers might still find some products on the shelves that will have trans fats that would have been produced before this [ban] came into place," a Health Canada official told CBC News.
"Health Canada estimates that within three years, there will not be any kind of trans fat products on the shelves."
PHOs (or artificially produced trans fats) are made when hydrogen is added to a liquid vegetable oil and can be found in a lot of junk food. Think fries, pastries, pizza, and popcorn, as well as margarine.
They were first produced in the early 20th century as a longer-lasting alternative to butter, which allows manufacturers to extend their sell-by dates. Since then, they have been linked to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, trans fats may be responsible for as many as 500,000 cardiovascular disease deaths worldwide every year.
The Canadian government is not the first to limit the use of artificial trans fats. Some countries, including Denmark, already have legislation in place, while the success of a ban in New York City prompted the federal government to introduce a nationwide ban in 2015.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans to ban trans fats across the world as soon as 2023.
[H/T: CBC Canada]