The requirement of food manufacturing companies and importers to list harmful trans fats on their labels has gone into effect, Health Minister Yael German said on Tuesday.
“It is our obligation to encourage more healthful eating to promote health and reduce illness,” she said.
Trans fats are partially hydrogenated and, whether of animal or plant origin, provide no known benefit to human health. In addition, while both saturated and trans fats increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad cholesterol”), trans fats also bring down levels of high-density lipoprotein (or “good cholesterol”). As a result, trans fats increase the danger of coronary heart disease.
Last fall, the US Food and Drug Administration took a first step toward eliminating most trans fat from the American diets by stating that partially hydrogenated oils are “no longer generally recognized as safe.” Trans fats, while edible, are a contaminant introduced by a side reaction on the catalyst in partial hydrogenation. In chemical terms, trans fat is a fat (lipid) molecule that contains one or more double bonds in trans geometric configuration.
The Israeli regulations, issued on February 1 and taking effect on April 1, require the separate listing of trans fats, cholesterol and saturated fatty acids on packaged products from the level of 2 percent fat and over. Until now, the listing of any kind of fat was required only from 4.5% fat and above.
Any food manufactured before January 31 is not bound to show the separate listing until their sale ends due to their expiry date, the minister said.
Prof. Itamar Grotto, the ministry’s head of public health, said that trans fat begins as a liquid. It usually contains unsaturated fatty acids that undergo a saturation process called hydrogenation to produce saturated fats, which have more desirable physical properties, such as melting at a desirable temperature.
During this process, some of the hydrogen molecules bond to the fatty acids in a “trans” formation and turn the liquid fat into solids.
Already in 2006, then-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg made his city the first large one in the US to strictly limit trans fats in restaurants.
Grotto added that in countries with requirements of labeling trans fats, residents ate less of it.
Out of fear that their sales would drop, many companies reduced or eliminated their trans fats and replaced them with higher quality fats. Grotto recommended that at any age, no one should have more than 1% trans fat in his daily calorie intake.
German said that in recent months, her office has been working through the Knesset Economics Committee to pass regulations that will require fat contents to be listed on the front of packages of food and provide clear and simple user-friendly information.
Some US states are considering additional measures, such as designating trans fats as “food additives” so their use in manufacturing can be reduced significantly.