FDA, Calling Them Detrimental to Human Health, Moves to Ban Trans Fats in Food

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Photo courtesy the FDA
All of these foods currently contain trans fats, but if the FDA has its way, they won't for much longer.
On November 7, the Food and Drug Adminstration proposed that partially hydrogenated oils no longer be "generally recognized as safe" -- a ruling that, if made final, would effectively mean companies could no longer use anything containing trans fats in their products.

I asked Houstonians what they thought about this ruling, and it turns out many people don't know exactly what trans fats are, and many are not even aware that they were consuming them.

Because I'm not a scientist, I turned to the American Heart Association to put the definition of trans fats into layman's terms. According to the organization's Web site, "Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they're easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture."

Basically, trans fats make food taste "better" and last longer for less money. But at what cost to our health?

Trans fats can raise the levels of LDL -- or "bad cholesterol" -- in your body and lower the amounts of HDL, or "good cholesterol." Research has also shown that trans fats can increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. All so that Twinkie will stay soft and ostensibly fresh for more than a few weeks.

Many manufacturers have already taken steps to reduce trans fats in their products in an effort to make food healthier and keep the artificial fats off of their labels after the FDA passed a law requiring better labeling in 2003. Fortunately, reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown a decrease in consumption of trans fats among Americans in the past six years.

Still, trans fats have not yet been eliminated completely. Until the FDA's new regulation is made law, companies are not required to list the amount of trans fat on food labels unless it's greater than half a gram per serving of a particular item. These trace amounts can add up quickly, and scientists say even small amounts can have an adverse effect on health.

It should be noted that trans fats do occur in small amounts in nature, but organizations like the FDA do not generally consider these to be dangerous.


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7 comments
UH-OH
UH-OH

Welcome to the nanny state where the gov't decides what we get to consume, everybody.

rgwalt
rgwalt

I don't work for the food industry, so I don't have a stake in this discussion, but I wanted to point out an incorrect assertion in one of the quotes.  The person quoted (not the author of the article) stated that food companies use crude oil derivatives as the base oil for producing partially hydrogenated fats (shortenting).  This is completely incorrect.  Food companies hydrogenate vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, palm oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, etc to make the solid, shelf stable fats.  Crude oil derivatives are not used to make "shortening".

For the record, lard makes good shortening, a does virgin coconut oil.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rgwalt I understood the quote to be referring to unprocessed oil (vegetable or otherwise), not petroleum. I think by "crude" he meant "unrefined." I see how that could be misinterpreted though. 

rgwalt
rgwalt

Ah, ok, thanks for clearing this up. 

My concern about this move by the FDA is that it may start us down a slippery slope.  I mentioned lard and coconut oil both as alternatives to hydrogentated oils.  While neither are as shelf stable as hydrogenated oils, they are decent alternatives.  However, they are a far cry from being "good" for you...  At what point does the FDA decide that natural, saturated fats are bad for us and must be banned?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rgwalt That's a completely fair concern. It seems a lot of people are OK with the regulation of manmade products that may be bad for our health, but I think there'd be a very different reaction if the government said, for instance, that companies could no longer sell products made with lard. I, for one, love me some lardy flour tortillas! (in moderation)

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