Canada’s trans-fat ban may have just taken effect, but East York businesses have been preparing for it for years.
The ban took effect Sept. 15. Health Canada considers trans fat the worst kind of fat, and now considers it a contaminant.
Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. They can be found in hard margarine, vegetable shortening and commercially baked goods such as cookies. With this ban, many popular foods such as doughnuts, fast fried foods, breakfast sandwiches, frozen pizzas, muffins, pies, cakes and much more will be affected.
How are East York businesses reacting to the ban?
“We’ve already adjusted our recipes, but I’m sure other East York businesses are having a difficult time coping,” says Kostas Katsamakis, owner of Select Bakery on Donlands Ave.
“Suppliers and anybody who sells fats like canola oil, margarine, butter, shortening and things like that, they’ve already phased it in and switched to zero trans-fat recipes. We’ve been doing that for at least a year, we’ve already had a chance to see it.”
“It’s a question of how sharp you are in your industry,” he adds. “The Baking Association — and there is a Baking Association, if you didn’t know — has been telling us about these things and it’s been government-wide. As an industry, as a lobby, we gave our input on this. It wasn’t just, ‘OK. We get it.'”
The government is giving businesses a two-year phase-out period to clear their shelves of trans fat products made before the ban took effect.
“That’s why they gave us the [phase-out] period,” says Katsamakis. “To figure everything out.”
Bakeries are looking for shortening substitutes to perfect their new recipes. Shortening is any fat that is a solid at room temperature. It’s used in pastries and other food products. Even though butter is solid at room temperature and is frequently used in making pastries, shortening creates higher, lighter-textured baked goods. Butter naturally has water in it but shortening doesn’t.
Trans fats increase shelf life and add to the flavour of foods and goods, however, not all manufacturers use them in their recipes.
“For your everyday day loaf of bread, I don’t think it’s going to make a large difference,” says Sven Dedic, a sales associate at Cobs Bread Bakery on Bayview Ave. “Generally speaking, I think it will have a huge impact on other businesses. However, I don’t think it will be a negative impact because if ingredients get healthier because of this, it’s a good thing.”
Avoiding trans fat isn’t easy. A lot of the time, products will claim they contain zero trans fat when they really do.
“I think the ban will have a significant effect on communities,” says East York nutritionist Sarah Goldstein. “One issue with trans fat is that it’s not always labelled appropriately and so it’s difficult for individuals to be informed consumers.
“Another issue with trans fat is that it’s not found naturally. We have naturally occurring forms of fat, but trans fats are created chemically in a lab. Basically what that does is alter the fat structure. Natural fats are generally malleable, but trans fats aren’t. The structure of trans fat becomes almost like a block. Imagine that in your body.”
According to Health Canada, trans fats are non-essential, not required for any specific body function, and provide no known benefit to human health. Trans fats can affect multiple cardiovascular disease risk profiles, including blood cholesterol.
“Trans fats are not a nutrient. Fats are typically very healthy for us,” says Goldstein. “If you have fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, and oily fish — these are healthy fats for us. They have benefits to our cardiovascular health, to our skin health, to our hormones. The problem with trans fat is that it’s non-nutritious. It doesn’t offer us anything good.”