Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are vegetable oils that have been converted into solids. They enhance the flavor, texture and shelf life of many processed foods such as cookies, crackers, chips, candy, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough and breads such as hamburger buns. They are found in high amounts in microwave popcorn, cake mixes, pre-made frosting and frozen dinners, as well as some stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Trans fats are also common in fried foods, including doughnuts, french fries, chicken nuggets and hard taco shells. Everything that is delicious!
Unfortunately, after tantalizing your taste buds, trans fats travel through your digestive system to your arteries, "where they turn to sludge," according to WebMD. And not only do they raise "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, they lower amounts of "good" (HDL) cholesterol.
According to the FDA, reducing the use of trans fats could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year. The agency has required food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fat on packaging since 2006.
"While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
Public health advocates are all for getting rid of the stuff.
"Artificial trans fat is a uniquely powerful promoter of heart disease, and today's announcement will hasten its eventual disappearance from the food supply," Michael Jacobson, executive director of the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest said.
New York City has already banned the use of trans fats in restaurants. McDonald's Corp. has eliminated them from their foods.
Partially hydrogenated oils are derived from vegetable oils such as soybean in a chemical process called hydrogenation. Some people swear by them for baking.
The FDA's proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period in which food companies are expected to outline how long they expect it to take them to reformulate products. Some will be harder to reformulate than others (but do we really need frosting in a can?)
If the proposal becomes final, which is likely, partially hydrogenated oils would be considered food additives and would not be allowed in food unless authorized by health regulators. Of course, the ruling would not affect naturally occurring trans fat, which occurs in small amounts in some meat and dairy products.
Companies who then wanted to use trans fats in their products would have to meet the safety standards applied to food additives and prove that they do not cause harm, which would be so hard they probably wouldn't bother.
The main vegetable oil used in the United States is soybean oil. The FDA's announcement sparked a rapid sell-off in Chicago soyoil futures prices, according to Reuters.
Now if only the FDA would turn its attention to chicken.
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