Bye, Bye Bourekas? Health Ministry Seeks to Ban Trans-Fats

An Israeli chef seen preparing bourekas at a restaurant in Beer Sheva. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is seriously considering banning altogether products that contain trans fats, a main ingredient in many baked goods that utilize commercially produced vegetable-based oils. Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee, Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that “we are raising a generation of obese children who will not be able to manage in the army or in the workplace. If we do not do something today it will be the ruin of the Israeli economy.”

If the Ministy is unable to completely ban the use of trans-fat based products, it can, and will, include such products in its list of “bad” foods. Under a recently announced plan, manufactured food products will soon sport green and red labels – the former for products that are considered healthful, and the latter for foods that consumers should avoid altogether, or consume with great caution.

According to the new rules, foods that include any of the following – 300 or more calories per 100-gram (3-ounce) serving, 500 mg of sodium and/or 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams, or 5 grams of saturated fat per 100-gram serving – would get a “red” mark, meaning that consumers should avoid and/or significantly limit their intake. Foods that fit in with recommendations of the Health Ministry, such as having no added sugar, would get a “green” mark.

Director General Bar Siman-Tov said that the Ministry would add products with trans fats to the not-recommended list, and they, too, would feature a red label.

The move would have a major impact on the way Israelis eat. One of the biggest sources of trans fats is in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, very commonly used in baked goods because they are cheap and because they are pareve. The oils are also used in a wide variety of popular products, like pizza, bourekas and french fries. While officials of the Economy Ministry said at the committee meeting that requiring companies to place a red sticker on products would cause price increases, Mr. Bar Siman-Tov said that the Health Ministry would make sure that did not happen.

Speaking to Yediot Acharonot, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that “we are preparing to remove trans fat from the Israeli diet. We have been discussing ways of doing this with health experts. Many scientific studies point to the significant damage these fats do to the body, and we must ensure that people know how damaging they are. We will work with the food manufacturers to find ways to cut down and eliminate added trans fats as part of our plan to label healthy and unhealthy food products. Our intent is to continue advancing the good health of Israelis.”

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