On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that it will no longer consider food products containing partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of artificial trans fat, as “generally recognized as safe.” As a result, the FDA ordered food manufacturers to remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products.
The ruling is a long time coming. Partially hydrogenated oils have been in the food supply since the 1950’s, becoming a popular (and once-thought healthy) alternative to other saturated fat sources, such as butter. But over the past several decades, research has mounted implicating the artificially-produced fat in significantly increasing heart disease risk. Consumer awareness campaigns, in turn, began to spring up to educate the public about the harm of consuming trans fat, and the enactment of various public policies attempted to decrease availability and consumption.
Here are 8 things you should know about artificial trans fats and the recent FDA ban.
- Not all trans fat is man-made. Trans fat do occur naturally in some foods, like dairy products and meats. The FDA only pertains to artificial trans fats, which are produced when vegetable oils are processed in a saturated fat through hydrogenation. Some previous studies have actually hinted at some possible health benefits of consuming foods with naturally-occurring trans fat.
- Food companies have three years to comply with the new ban.
- In 2006, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list trans fat content per serving (in grams) on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Industry has already taken steps to significantly reduce the amount of trans fat in their products. Consumption of trans fat decreased from 2003 to 2012 by 78%, according to FDA estimates. In response to the recent FDA ban, a General Mills spokesperson, for example, stated that less than 5% of its products contain trans fat as an ingredient.
- Food companies used to get away with hiding trace amounts of trans fat in food. Before the recent ban, federal food labeling requirements stipulated that manufacturers could list 0g of trans fat on the nutrition facts label for the product for amounts up to 0.5g per serving. So, if there was 0.3g of trans fat per serving in a product, the label could say 0g trans fat on the label. The only sure way to know if the product contains partially hydrogenated oils is to look at the ingredients list.
- Some of the most commons foods containing artificial trans fat are:
–crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
–snack foods (such as some microwave popcorn)
–refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
- Food companies will still be able to petition the FDA to use artificial trans fat in some products. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the food industry trade group, already has a petition in the works.
- Trans fat do all kinds of nasty things to your health. On a physiological level, trans fat promotes systemic inflammation. This is one of the main drivers behind its role in promoting atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and heart disease. Trans fat also affects lipid metabolism, reducing the size of LDL cholesterol particles, reduces levels of HDL and increases levels of LDL and VLDL. But here’s the bottom line, as stated in a recent review on trans fat: “on a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of CHD [cardiovascular disease] more than any other macronutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk at low levels of consumption (1 to 3 percent of total energy intake).” This is basically saying that even at very low levels of consumption, trans fat still has a huge influence on one’s chances of developing heart disease.