FDA acts to remove dangerous fat from food

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In 2013, health conscious consumers and professionals cheered when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would consider removing artificial trans fat from the list of ingredients generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for human consumption.

Now they have reason to celebrate.

Despite persistent opposition of the food industry, the FDA finalized its decision to no longer consider partially hydrogenated oils, the principle source of artificial trans fat, as GRAS. This means that food manufacturers have three years to remove trans fats from products.

Trans fat should be avoided at all costs. Read on to find out why.

What are they?
First, let’s be clear that we’re talking about artificial trans fats as opposed to naturally occurring trans fats, which are found in some meat and dairy products. Naturally occurring trans fats don’t appear to pose the same health threats as man-made trans fats. For the purposes of this article, the term “trans fats” will refer only to artificial trans fats. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is deliberately added to liquid vegetable oils.  Food manufacturers like trans fats because they’re cheap, have a longer shelf life, have a desirable soft-solid consistency (for example spreadable margarine) and can be used over and over to fry foods in a commercial fryer.
Why are they important?
The most important thing to know about trans fats is that you should avoid them at all cost. Trans fats not only raise our “lousy” (LDL) cholesterol like saturated fats do, but they also lower our “healthy” (HDL) cholesterol. This combination seriously raises our risk of heart attack and stroke. Trans fats are also linked to an increased risk of diabetes, chronic inflammation, and impaired growth on fetuses and breastfeeding infants .
What foods are they found in?
Trans fats are found in foods that contain “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils. All of these items commonly contain trans fats:

  • Commercial baked goods (cookies, cakes, crackers, pies)
  • Fried foods (fried chicken, French fries, doughnuts)
  • Some margarines
  • Shortening
  • Shelf-stable peanut butter (all-natural peanut butter does NOT contain trans fats)
  • Nondairy creamers
  • Waffle and pancake mixes (for example, Bisquick Original)
  • Frosting
How much of it is safe to eat?
Researchers have not defined a safe level of trans fats.  I recommend that you do your best to avoid all man-made trans fats.
What’s the most common myth about them?
The most common myth about trans fats is that “0 grams trans fat” on a food label means no trans fats.  On the contrary, food manufacturers are allowed to include up to half a gram of artificial trans fats per serving and still label it as “0 grams trans fat.”  Half a gram might not sound like a lot but that quickly adds up if you eat multiple servings.Consumers, stay vigilant!  Scan the ingredient list for the terms “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” oils.  These indicate the presence of trans fats.
Anything else I should know?
Yes!  You should know that the statements “No trans fats” and “Trans-fat free” on products do not mean that the products are healthy or calorie-free.  Most often, trans fats are traded in for saturated fats, which contain just as many calories per serving and also increase your risk of heart disease.

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