It has been known for years that artificial trans fats are something you should avoid in your diet. Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a preliminary determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) — the primary source of trans fats — are not “generally recognized as safe.” If this determination becomes final, PHOs would have to be removed from all foods, unless other regulations allow for them.
The potential health consequences of consuming PHOs aren’t exactly new, but increased evidence has prompted the FDA response. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). They have also been associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and increased risk of coronary heart disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in arteries, possibly leading to a heart attack. Trans fats are common enough that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that reducing them in our foods could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease-related deaths every year.
Trans fats are intentionally used in order to enhance flavor and shelf-stability. For that reason, they”re present in a lot of different foods — something you can find out by looking for the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oil” on the nutrition panel. Here are just a few:
• Baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, and frozen pies
• Microwave popcorn
• Vegetable shortenings and margarine
• Coffee creamers
• Pre-made frostings
• Refrigerated dough products (like biscuits, breads, and pizza)
• Fried foods (like fries and doughnuts)
If the ban on PHOs goes through, manufacturers will have to figure out how to make their foods without trans fats, but this is not as big of a challenge as it may sound. Philadelphia, New York, and California have already banned trans fats in restaurants, including fast food chains. Additionally, not all trans fats would be outlawed; the ban just applies to the ones that are artificially produced. Those that naturally occur in dairy, meat, and other oils — such as fully hydrogenated oil — are probably here to stay.
“Trans fats are common enough that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that reducing them in our foods could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease-related deaths every year.”