Cut trans fats from food supply, health groups tell Ottawa
Last Updated: Thursday, April 5, 2007 | 7:58 PM ET
Harmful trans fats should be eliminated from Canada's food supply, health advocates told the federal government on Thursday.
The report by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Toronto Public Health calls on the government to act now on last summer's recommendations from a federal task force.
Stephen Samis, director of health policy for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, talks about their report calling for the elimination of trans fat from the food supply.
The task force sought a trans fat limit of two per cent of total fat content in spreadable margarine and five per cent in all other foods.
"Trans [fats] are not a choice, they're a killer," said Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, who co-chaired the task force of scientists, health experts, and the food and restaurant industries.
Trans fats raise the levels of low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol, in the body and can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease.
The foundation estimates consumption of trans fats accounts for 3,000 to 5,000 Canadian deaths from heart disease annually.
Cities weigh voluntary limits, bans
David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, also urged the federal government to mandate the limits as soon as possible to protect all Canadians, including those who do not read food labels, can't speak English or French, or have low literacy levels.
"In the interim, we will work with various city-run facilities such as child-care centres and cafeterias, as well as school boards, to request that they voluntarily reduce trans fats in foods prepared, served, and sold on site," McKeown said.
Last week, public health officials in Calgary said they would push ahead with a plan to ban trans fats in restaurants by October 2008, which would be a first in Canada.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association called Calgary's plan flawed, saying it supports moves for a national trans fat ban by 2010.
A national approach would put restaurants and food retailers on a level playing field, while sending a strong signal to oilseed growers and processors to boost production of healthier alternatives such as sunflower, corn, soybean and canola oil, the CRFA said.
A city-by-city approach would be present difficulties for the food industry, which supplies foods across the country, agreed Stephen Samis, director of health policy for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Foods contain dangerous levels
While nutrition labels have helped for some packaged goods, a Heart and Stroke survey released with Thursday's report found dangerous amounts of trans fat are still found in many foods, including those consumed by children.
For example, the foundation found five grams of trans fat in 50 grams of PC Natural Flavour Microwaveable Popcorn — seven times the trans fat limit recommended by the federal task force. Healthier alternatives are available that contain zero grams of trans fat.
"I hope it frightens them," said Carol Dombrow, a dietitian with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "I hope it wakes up the food-service providers to make a change," which some food manufacturers have already done.
Last week, the parliamentary standing committee on health's report on childhood obesity also called for the task force's recommendations to be adopted.
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