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'High-noon' on fats

Breaking down the good, the bad and what's the difference

Posted: 4 June, 2015

If the health showdown with harmful food components were portrayed in an old western cowboy movie, one of the bad guys clearly wearing a black hat would be industrially produced trans fat.

Most of this type of trans fat in a typical Canadian diet comes from hard margarines and also from commercially fried foods and products made from hydrogenated oils and fats, such as French fries, donuts, cakes, pastries, muffins and croissants. The science shows quite clearly these trans fats are detrimental to health and that's why there has been a major push to phase them out of the food supply.

Not to be confused, however, would be the substantially different natural trans fats found in the milk and meat of ruminant animals. There is general scientific agreement that normal dietary consumption of theses natural trans fats are not a health concern.

In fact, as a leading example, one major review article concluded that natural trans fats from ruminants appear to be associated with "neutral to beneficial health outcomes in humans." (Wang Y, Proctor SD. Current issues surrounding the definition of trans-fatty acids: implications for health, industry and food labels. British Journal of Nutrition, 2013, 110(8), 1369-1383)

Winning the showdown

Today the trends indicate that Canada is winning the battle with the harmful type of trans fats, with recent studies observing that the "virtual disappearance" of industrial trans fats may soon become the reality in this country.

Know who the real 'bad guys' are

This is great news for the health of Canadians. However, as the phasing out of industrial trans fats continues, an important indirect impact is that the small amounts of natural trans fats in milk and meat are likely to become more noticeable and highlighted.

This heightened awareness is likely to result in more questions from the public on whether or not these natural trans fats are a health concern. There is a risk that, without the right information and guidance, many Canadians may be confused or misled into thinking they should avoid nutrient rich foods such as dairy and beef that contain natural trans fats.

Wearing the white hat

As a result, it's more important than ever that health professionals providing advice are clear that these natural trans fats are distinct from the industrial form. In amounts typically consumed, there has been no reason for concern that natural trans fats pose any health risks.

As more science emerges, there is rising evidence that natural trans fats are a "white hat" food component not to be feared.

Editor's note: Learn more at www.naturaltransfats.ca.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.