Bye, bye trans fats

The FDA’s June 18, 2018 deadline for food manufacturers to remove harmful trans fats is on point to improve health and reduce heart disease.

February 20, 2018 - Author: Diane Rellinger, Michigan State University Extension

In November 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announced a claim that partially hydrogenated oils, a major source of artificial trans fats, were no longer generally recognized as safe for use in human food. This federal regulatory determination established a commitment to American’s heart health and set a course for further policy action. In June 2015, the FDA required the American food industry to remove harmful artificial trans fats by June 18, 2018. The ban, which was founded on long-standing scientific studies showing trans fats consumption has a direct link to increased plaque buildup in arteries, and increased rates of coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

Since the 1950s, partially hydrogenated oils have been a common food ingredient. Adding hydrogen gas to vegetable oil has been an inexpensive easy-to-use method to turn liquid oil into a semi-solid or solid substance, which is more desirable for many foods such as baked goods. Partially hydrogenated oils increase shelf life, add texture to foods, and provides flavor stability hence the interest by food manufacturers to incorporate this type of fat. Another advantage the food industry found was trans fat oils could be reused multiple times to deep fry foods. Initially trans fats were not thought to be harmful and research on the use of trans fats and their effect on the body were generally not conducted prior to the 1990s.

As American’s heart health and consumption of trans fats continued to be researched, the FDA instituted requirements in 2006 for the food industry to incorporate trans fats on the Nutrition Facts label. Trans fats are listed in grams per serving on the food label. However, it is important to note a food which contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts. That can be somewhat confusing as you browse Nutrition Facts looking for mention of trans fats. To find trace amounts of trans fats you must check the ingredients list carefully to identify if partially hydrogenated oils were added. Eating several foods with trans fats or several servings of foods with small amounts of trans fats each day can add up quickly. Michigan State University Extension encourages consumers to be vigilant to read the Nutrition Facts label to be well informed about ingredients in the food they eat.

As more information about the negative health affects of trans fats have been made public, Americans have demanded healthier foods in schools, grocery stores and restaurants. Since the early 2000s, there has been steady progress by food manufactures to stop using trans fats. Consumers will continue to see the food industry comply with the FDA mandate to remove trans fats, and reformulate the type of fat used in products and cooking to meet the June 2018 deadline.

Be aware currently trans fats are found in many processed foods including baked goods, crackers, microwave popcorn, stick margarine, fast food, ready to use frosting, and coffee creamers. Thankfully with food label standards it is easier to identify ingredient lists to know the types of fats used in processing. Do not hesitate to ask about the type of oils and fats used to prepare food when you eat out. Menus alone do not typically provide enough information so ask the wait staff and chef to verify their ingredients. Being a well-informed, health conscious consumer is essential.

Even with all of the mandatory removal of trans fats, food companies can petition the FDA for a special permit if partially hydrogenated oil are still an ingredient in their products. Only the FDA can approve this request. Once again be intentional to read carefully review food labels watching for partially hydrogenated oils in American made products as well as imported processed foods.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, nutrition, physical activity

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