The nutrition world was rejoicing in some big news since yesterday. The Food and Drug Administration announced that trans-fats will no longer be “Generally Recognized As Safe”(GRAS). This means that these harmful fats will be banned and it would be illegal for the industry to use them in their products.This won’t have immediate effect as manufacturers, scientists and researchers have 60 days to reply back with comments.
After that, and if the ban takes place, the manufacturers will have to file for specific request with the FDA and provide scientific evidence that the trans fats are safe to eat. This will be unlikely to happen due to the large range of studies already confirming that these fats are linked to cardiovascular diseases. Not only have they been linked to plaque formation in the arteries leading to heart attacks, they have been found to raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL (the good cholesterol).
Picture courtesy FDA.gov via Fooducate.com
So what are trans-fats?
Trans-fats are man-made fats that are created through hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen atoms to liquid vegetable oils creating fats that are solid and stable at room temperature. They are mainly used in fried products and baked goods to extend their shelf-life and make them last longer. Partial hydrogenation occurs when the hydrogenation process is stopped midway. It is equally bad for the health but its outcome is a semi-solid buttery consistency ideal for cookies.
And where are they found?
Baked goods: cookies, muffins, cakes, crackers, biscuits… canned frosting, microwave popcorn, doughnuts, frozen pizza, vegetable shortenings, stick margarine and coffee creamer. Some restaurant chains also still use partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in some of their dishes.
Ever since the FDA forced the labeling of trans-fats in 2006, food manufacturers have been avoiding their use and trying to use substitutes. However, even a product boasting “a zero percent trans fat label” could still contain up to 0.5 grams per serving. This ban will take care of these last 0.5 grams.
Until companies stop using them in their products and they are banned worldwide, what can you do to avoid their consumption?
Read, read and read your labels. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t just believe the product’s front label. Remember, food companies are in it for the money. Turn the package backwards and check for the ingredients “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”.
Try to avoid these highly processed goods altogether. Not just for the trans-fats but for the saturated fats, the artificial sweeteners maybe, the genetically modified high-fructose corn syrup or soy lecithin, the artificial flavors and coloring, the MSG.…Need I go on??
Even though this ban comes 30 years late, it is an important step in the food world today. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the food industry doesn’t come up with something worse to replace it.