Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposal to eliminate trans fats from packaged foods.
That’s right, the long, controversial road to trans fats might finally be coming to an end—and with it, the potential opportunity to prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year, according to Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA.
The FDA is opening a 60-day comment period during which food industry and health professionals and the public can weigh in on the FDA’s preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oil, the source of trans fats, is no longer generally recognized as safe for use in food. So what does mean? Food companies have about 2 months to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat. It’s important to remember that the Institute of Medicine has already concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats.
Small amounts of trans fats do occur naturally in meat fat and milk fat, but most of the trans fats in our food supply come from those that are artificially added in processing. They continue to hide in many popular processed foods, including frozen pizzas, cake mixes, microwave popcorn, snack cakes, buttery spreads, coffee creamers, crackers, and pie crusts, to name just a few. Much like saturated fats, trans fats raise bad LDL cholesterol (the one that promotes heart disease) and lower the good HDL cholesterol (the one that protects against heart disease.)
Government regulations already require food manufacturers to print trans fats numbers on labels, but only if the food contains more than half a gram of the artery-clogging fat per serving. Below half a gram, and the label may legally read zero. These unlabeled trace amounts can add up quickly when multiple servings are consumed, an action not unknown to the American consumer.
“Getting rid of artificial trans fat is one of the most important life-saving measures the FDA could take,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a press release earlier today. The CSPI began petitioning the FDA to require a line for trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels back in 1994. Nine years ago, they started pushing for the FDA to ban trans fats altogether. “Thousands of heart attack deaths will be prevented in the years ahead. The FDA deserves credit for letting science, and not politics, shape its new proposed policy on artificial trans fats,” Jacobson said.
For all parties involved—the FDA, the CSPI, researchers who initially linked trans fats to heart disease, and even food companies who have already moved to replace trans fats with healthier fats—this is exciting news.
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