Goodbye to trans fats

Goodbye to trans fats

As expected, the FDA is (at a very measured pace) closing the door on trans fats.   Our understanding of the role of fats and oils in the diet has advanced considerably since the simplistic 1980s and 1990s focus on reducing dietary fats altogether (Nabisco’s Snackswells brand is usually cited in this context).  That made sense to a degree because fats are higher-calorie than protein or carbs, and because saturated and especially trans fats aren’t healthy.

But that doesn’t mean that anyone ever got thinner or healthier by eating a bag of low-fat, high-carb chocolate cookies, as the nation’s obesity rate testifies.  And, as the widely cited Predimed study (New England Journal of Medicine, 2013) on the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet recently affirmed, that doesn’t mean that olive oil can’t be a prominent part of heart-healthy diet. 

Trans fats are another matter.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trans fats are associated with up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually.  The FDA first proposed that trans fats, as a public health concern, be declared on Nutrition Facts labels in 1999; that proposal became a requirement in 2006.   On November 7, 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food.

If this preliminary determination survives the current 60-day comment period, PHOs will generally be banned in food formulation and phased out of the processed food market.  Although many processed foods have already been reformulated to reduce or eliminate trans fats, trans fats still lurk in many products, including fried foods, baked goods, baking mixes, ramen and other soup cups, microwave popcorn, margarine spreads, and shortening.

See also Packaged Facts’ retail market and culinary trend reports on fats and oils: