Israel's Health Ministry Pushes Law to Ban Artificial Trans Fats in Food

Trans fats can be found in a large number of heavily consumed foods such as pizza, cookies, cakes, microwave popcorn, potato chips, margarine and bourekas

Bourekas, an Israeli favorite.
Shahar Poni

The Health Ministry plans to ban the use of artificial trans fats in Israel. The ministry hopes to legislate a law over the next year to ban the production of food items containing trans unsaturated fatty acids, which are commonly used in popular junk food, snacks, fried foods, packaged baked goods and fast food.

Israel has taken a number of steps to limit the use and consumption of trans fats but the Health Ministry wants to go further as part of its campaign for healthier lifestyles and nutrition. A number of Western nations have already banned trans fats, or are well into the process of gradually prohibiting them.  The World Health Organization has also applied pressure on the Health Ministry to take further steps against trans fats.

Trans fats can be found in a large number of heavily consumed foods such as pizza, cookies, cakes, microwave popcorn, potato chips, margarine, bourekas and many other items. Trans fat consumption have been shown to be linked directly to coronary artery disease and most likely other health risks, including raising bad cholesterol levels while lowering good cholesterol, as well as diabetes and obesity. 

Trans fats are created by hydrogenating liquid vegetable oils, adding hydrogen gas to make the fats solid at room temperature, which also makes them less likely to spoil and increases their shelf life. They are also cheaper than animal fats, such as butter. 

Awareness of healthy eating has been growing in Israel in recent years, and the Israeli food industry is aware of these trends – but no law prevents the use of artificial trans fats. But since April 2014, food companies are required to note the types of fats they use, if they are over 2 percent of ingredients, including stating whether they are saturated, unsaturated or trans fats, as well as cholesterol.

“Most large food companies have already internalized the change and they have reduced such ingredients as saturated fat, sugar, sodium and also trans fats in their products,” Prof. Ronit Endevelt, head of the nutrition department in the Health Ministry, told Haaretz. “We see the trans fats more on the margins, in neighborhood bakeries for bourekas or people who make jachnun at home.” The legislative process to ban trans fats will begin in the next year, she said.

The ministry plans other steps to reduce trans fat consumption, including education and raising consumer awareness, but no schedule or practical decisions on the matter have yet been made. 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration experts estimate the ban on trans fats will prevent some 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year in the United States.

In June 2015, the FDA determined that trans fats are generally considered unsafe and set a three-year time limit to remove them from all processed foods in the United States.