FDA Orders Trans Fats to Be Removed From Processed Foods
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a major step to improve the health of Americans: it has ordered food manufacturers to phase artificial trans fats out of processed foods over the next three years.
"A lot of manufacturers have already started taking trans fats out of their products if they haven't already removed them completely. So there are very few manufacturers that still have to get on board, but I think three years is good, if not faster – that's what I'm hoping for," said Christine Henigan, a clinical dietitian at Abington-Jefferson Health.
Phasing out and reducing artificial trans fats from the food supply is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year. Consuming trans fats has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels – that’s the “bad cholesterol.” Elevated LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart disease by contributing to the buildup of plaque inside the arteries.
This move by the FDA doesn’t mean that all trans fats will be completely removed from your diet, though. Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in animal products like meal, milk and other dairy products, and at very low levels in other edible oils.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Trans fats that will be phased out are the type formed during food processing, which is created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid – a process called hydrogenation. For a long time, manufacturers have used partially hydrogenated oils to improve the texture, shelf life and flavor stability of foods. To date, about half of trans fats consumed by Americans is formed during food processing, with partially hydrogenated oils being the main source of this type of trans fat in the U.S.
"Trans fats are just one of the major causes [of heart disease and heart attacks] that we can easily get rid of because there are healthier fats like oils and nuts and seeds that we can use in their place,” Henigan said.
But, does phasing out artificial trans fats from food mean products you've eaten for years will become unrecognizable?
“I don't think a lot of products will change drastically. Manufacturers are going to try to do their best to keep them familiar. I think it will be more eye-opening to learn that you don't really know exactly what's in your foods,” she said.
Read Nutrition Labels
For that reason, the FDA encourages consumers to look at ingredients lists and nutrition labels to determine whether foods contain trans fats. Currently, foods that are labeled with 0 grams of trans fats may still contain small amounts. That’s why it’s important to look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
However, when it comes to improving your health and reducing your risk of a heart attack, Henigan explained that there are two other things you should be looking at on nutrition labels and ingredients lists: sugar and sodium content. In fact, Henigan said she would like the FDA to work phasing those ingredients out as well.
"I'd love to see them focus a little bit more on added sugars, especially in the labeling department, to let people know what comes naturally from foods and what manufacturers have added during processing. And also salt – getting a lot of that salt out of foods,” she said.
Studies have found that consuming significant amounts of added sugar and sodium can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and other serious health conditions.