The Food and Drug Administration Finally Makes a Move against Trans Fats

On Nov. 7, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration formally announced it would remove partially hydrogenated oils from the American food supply.

Years of research from a variety of sectors continues to prove that the consumption of trans fats increases LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and contributes to cardiac disease. Trans fats have been around since the early 1900s. They are created when hydrogen is added to liquid oils to make a solid fat. These oils were created to increase the shelf life and flavor of foods. Remember Crisco in the can? That’s a perfect example of partially hydrogenated oil. Today, trans fats continue to be found in a variety of items from stick margarine to coffee creamer.

Where’s the Fat?

Research has shown there is no acceptable “safe level” for the consumption of trans fats in the human diet. Since the early 2000s, restaurants and food manufacturers have been removing trans fats from their products. Trans fats give foods a taste and mouth feel that can be tricky to duplicate. Companies often have to reformulate a food more than once to find an acceptable substitute for consumers.

Just because a product label states that a food is “trans fat free,” doesn’t mean that it is. The FDA does not have a zero tolerance policy for trans fat labeling. Some foods, such as certain types of dairy or meats, have naturally trans fats. It also is found at very low levels in edible fully hydrogenated oils, which occurs during processing. These products will be unaffected by the new rules.

On the other hand, as long as a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, the FDA allows the product to be labeled as being free of trans fats. Consumers need to look for the term “partially hydrogenated” on the list of ingredients. If it’s there, the product is not free of trans fats.

Reducing Consumption

The goal of the FDA’s plan is to do what consumers have been asking for; eliminate the bad stuff from products. According what the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association told CNN, food manufacturers have voluntarily reduced the amount of partially hydrogenated oils in their foods by over 70 percent since 2005.

trans fats banned

Manufacturers make the decision to remove trans fats because consumers dictate it, not because of health concerns. McDonald’s didn’t switch to trans-fat free oil for their fries because they were concerned about the health of their patrons. They switched because they didn’t want to lose patrons who were concerned about the use of partially hydrogenated oils. Dunkin’ Donuts went through a similar process. They were concerned that removing the trans fat from their donuts would change the taste and feel of their product. As it turned out, they had no reason to worry. Consumers continue to flock to Dunkin’ Donuts despite their use of healthy oils in their product

What’s Next?

After receiving comments, the FDA will work with manufacturers to create a timetable to phase out these fats. The goal is to move quickly without putting an undue burden on manufacturers.

Despite the length of time it took for the FDA to realize how dangerous partially hydrogenated oils were, at least they are finally protecting consumers. This is a step toward improving the nutrition and health of Americans as the US strives to reduce diet related illnesses.