Last week the FDA took initial steps that will eliminate trans fats from all foods. Food scientists and others can respond to this mandate to the FDA over the next 60 days. This will help the FDA determine when to phase out all trans fats since manufacturers may need to reformulate some of their products. After that, food manufacturers will need to petition the FDA to allow trans fats in a particular product.
By forcing hydrogen atoms into vegetable oil and changing its molecular structure, trans fats are created. This saturates the oils and makes them solid. Trans fats improve the texture and extend the shelf life of manufactured food products. (Have you ever seen a moldy Twinkie?) Among the foods trans fats are commonly found in are frozen pizzas, frostings, popcorn, snack foods, crackers, pizza and cookie dough, stick margarine, cake mixes, fried foods, muffins, pies, cookies, and other baked goods. Most experts consider trans fats as the most damaging fat to our health. Clinical trials have shown trans fats to increase the risk of a heart attack and premature cardiovascular death. Our body metabolizes trans fats differently than other fats and is linked to liver dysfunction.
Looking for trans fats on the nutrition label of packaged goods can be tricky. If there is less than .05 grams of trans fat per serving size, it does not have to be listed under “Total Fat” on the nutritional label. Have you ever seen a ridiculous serving size – like 1/4 cup of macaroni and cheese is one serving? It may be because by reducing the serving size, the manufacturer will not have to list trans fats on the label since a smaller serving size may have less than .05 grams of trans fats. Here’s what to do. Look at the list of individual ingredients on the nutrition label. If it lists the words “partly hydrogenated,” the product contains trans fats. With all of the navigation needed to read a label to see if a food contains trans fats, one wonders if the food industry is trying to hide trans fats from us.
Do we need another government mandate? You decide. Not only do trans fats raise the level of LDL (bad cholesterol) in our blood, it lowers HDL (good cholesterol). The American Heart Association welcomes the move stating it will “improve cardiovascular health in the United States.” Studies show trans fats increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The FDA has categorized trans fats as “not generally recognized as safe for use in food” and said the restrictions could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year. If your life is one that is saved by eliminating trans fats, this is a good mandate.
Food manufacturers and restaurants saw the writing on the wall several years ago and have already made significant strides to eliminate trans fats. Many restaurants don’t use trans fats when frying foods. Food manufactures have reformulated some of their recipes to reduce or eliminate trans fats.
Denmark was the first country to eliminate trans fats in 2003. In the United States, the FDA required trans fats be listed on the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods in 2006. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned the use of trans fats in bakeries and restaurants in 2006. California did the same in 2008. In 2011 Walmart ordered their suppliers to quit using trans fats by 2015. With these heavy hitters taking these bold steps, manufactures have already made significant progress in eliminating trans fats from their products. It can be done.
In preparation for the new law, food manufactures have reduced or eliminated trans fats in many of their products. But the trans fats are still out there. In the meantime, read nutrition labels. For the sake of your health and that of your loved ones, if the nutrition label has the words “partially hydrogenated” on it, put it back on the shelf.