The Metro Health Board in Louisville, Kentucky has endorsed plans to bring in a trans-fat ban in the city within 18 months.
The proposed ban would apply to “the use of artificial trans fat in prepared foods and prepared baked goods served in permitted food service establishments”, with a phase-in period of 12 months for prepared foods and 18 months for baked goods. The board has also called for a public education campaign.
Hydrogenated fats have been widely used by food producers for a century, but fears about trans fats – and the risk of coronary heart disease that these can cause – have prompted companies to look for alternative oils that provide the same function without the attendant dangers.
Bans already apply across areas that encompass about 20 percent of the US population, including New York City, Philadelphia, and the State of California. But there has been controversy about how easy or difficult it is for food manufacturers to reformulate with non-hydrogenated fats.
Dr Adewale Troutman, director of the Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness Department, must now decide whether to recommend the ban to the Metro Council, which requested the Louisville task force study.
Hydrogenation of oils, essentially turning them into semi-solids, gives them a higher melting point and extends their shelf life, making them better suited for use by the food industry. Trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils are also cheaper to produce than healthier oils like sunflower or olive oil. Therefore, margarines and commercially produced shortenings in the US have traditionally contained high levels of hydrogenated fats.
Trans fat sources
Artificial trans fat is most common in baked and fried foods, in which it can count for up to 45 percent of total fat content.
The trans fat bans that have been instigated refer to these artificial trans fats, but it also occurs naturally. It makes up two to five percent of total fat content in dairy products and beef, for example.
The World Health Organization has recommended an upper limit of one percent of a person’s daily energy to come from trans fat.