Artificial trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils have been widely used by food manufacturers for a century, but evidence has mounted over the past decade linking the fats with increased risk of heart disease. They have been shown to increase levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) and simultaneously lower levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol).
Metro Council member Dan Johnson, who had supported a trans fat ban in the city, has now sponsored a resolution introduced at a council meeting last night, proposing a public education program about the dangers of trans fats and an initiative to encourage voluntary reduction of trans fats by food manufacturers and businesses.
The resolution states: “The Council (…) supports the Louisville Metro Health and Wellness Department’s plan to start a voluntary campaign for food service establishments to cease cooking with trans fat oils and to offer rewards for those businesses that voluntarily move to the preparation and service of trans fat free foods.”
However, the nature of rewards for businesses has not been made clear.
The Metro Council requested that a taskforce be set up in 2007 to assess whether Louisville should follow the lead of other cities in implementing a trans fat ban. The taskforce’s recommendation – that a ban should be brought in within 18 months – was referred to Dr Adewale Troutman, director of the Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness Department. But he decided not to recommend a ban to the Metro Council amid concerns that it could be difficult for businesses to reformulate with non-hydrogenated fats.
Despite Troutman’s conclusion favoring improved labeling and a public education program, he said businesses’ voluntary actions should be reassessed in 12 to 18 months, when the possibility of legislation could be reconsidered.
Bans already apply across areas that encompass about 20 percent of the US population, including New York City, Philadelphia, and the State of California.
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.
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.