FDA's Efforts to Ban Remaining Trans Fats Worthwhile

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Let me be honest with you. I don’t have a problem with having some government regulation that is designed to educate and protect Americans’ health. The basis for my belief is that I watched my mother smoke cigarettes for more than 60 years. Initially, almost everyone in her generation smoked cigarettes based on the glamorous marketing images of smokers. Finally, it began to emerge that smoking could be hazardous to a person’s health. However, Mom was again swayed by the news that low-tar cigarettes were not that dangerous. By the late 1990s, Mom had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to all those years of smoking. She lived with that condition for about a decade, but faced skin that would rip apart (due to steroid treatments), using multiple oxygen tanks that impaired her mobility, and eventually Alzheimer’s disease that probably developed faster due to her lung issues. Therefore, I wish those Surgeon General warnings had gone on all tobacco products back in the 1940s when she was just considering smoking and that unbiased research had been done to determine the merits and dangers of smoking.

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    So it will come as no surprise to you that I am not at all opposed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it is requiring a gradual phase out of artificial trans fats by companies. The FDA pointed out that this move to phase out trans fats has been a long time coming. It began in a 1999 proposal to have manufacturers list the amount of trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels. That proposal went into effect in 2006. And now the FDA has issued a Federal Register notice of its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer generally recognized as safe. If finalized, this determination would result in these oils becoming food additives that are subject to premarket approval by the FDA. Foods that have unapproved additives cannot legally be sold in the United States. This would, in effect, end the use of artificial industrially-produced trans fat in foods.

    So why all the fuss? The American Heart Association points out that trans fats actually raise bad cholesterol levels while also lowering good cholesterol levels. This one-two punch increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reducing trans fat in the food supply chain is estimated to help prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease and approximately 20,000 heart attacks annually.

    Trans fats – which are also known as trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated oils – are created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. This process, which began in the 1950s, causes the oils to become more solid. These foods are used to give foods a desirable taste and texture. Furthermore, trans fats last a long time and are inexpensive to produce. They also can be used many times in commercial fryers to deep-fry foods.

  • Foods that often have trans fats include French fries, doughnuts, baked goods (pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies and crackers), stick margarines, coffee creamers, snack foods such as microwave popcorn, ready-to-use frostings, refrigerated dough products and shortenings.

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    Interestingly, though, you’ll probably still be consuming some trans fat, even if the FDA does take this step. That’s because trans fat also can be found naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products, as well as other edible oils, such as fully hydrogenated oils.

    And you’ll probably not even notice that the trans fats are missing. That’s because consumers started avoiding foods with trans fat in their labels starting in 2003 when the FDA published its final rule requiring these fats be listed in the Nutrition Facts label.  Manufacturers soon followed the customer’s’ lead and voluntarily altered the foods they produced by reducing or eliminating trans fat.
    Still, I’m happy that the FDA has put on notice the manufacturers who still do use trans fat that they need to change because those substances put people’s health in danger. And that, in my opinion, is a good use of regulation and governmental oversight. Now you can have your french fries without thinking about the risks caused by trans fat!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Heart Association. (2013). Trans fats.

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2013). FDA targets trans fat in processed foods.

Published On: November 12, 2013