The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially given the food industry three years to remove trans fats from the market, since "no amount is safe for human use. This should prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year." The FDA estimates that at one time, "95 percent of prepared cookies, 100 percent of crackers, and 80 percent of frozen breakfast products contained trans fat."
In 1957, research showed that trans fats caused heart attacks. By the 1990s, the FDA required all foods with trans fats to have labels stating that they contain trans fats. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine found that there was no safe level of trans fatty acids. In 2006, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban trans fats. Instead, the FDA required that trans fat must be listed on food labels. This year the American Medical Association recommended banning trans fats. When trans fats are finally gone in 2018, it will have taken 58 years to get this poison out of our food supply.
Half a Lifetime Fighting Against Trans Fats Fred Kummerow is a 100-year-old University of Illinois veterinary biosciences professor emeritus who still conducts research on the health effects of trans fats. In 1957, he published a bombshell report that he found trans fats inside arterial plaques that cause heart attacks. He then showed that rats develop atherosclerosis after being fed trans fats. Next he showed that removing trans fats from rats' diets caused the plaques to disappear from the inner linings of their arteries. Ten years later, he documented the massive amounts of trans fat in the American food supply. In 2009, he filed a petition with the FDA to ban trans fats. In 2013, he sued the FDA for allowing trans fats to remain in the American diet.
What Are Trans Fats? In the 1890s, chemists discovered that they could convert healthful polyunsaturated vegetable oils into trans fats by putting the oil with the mineral, nickel, into large closed containers and pumping hydrogen into the oil under pressure. This process made the oils take up the extra hydrogen into their structures to become trans fats (Annual Review of Nutrition, 1995; 15:473-93). For a detailed explanation see my report on Trans Fats
How Are Trans Fats Harmful? They are found in the plaques that cause heart attacks (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1981; 34:877-86). They raise the LDL ("lousy") cholesterol and lower the HDL ("healthful") cholesterol to increase risk for heart attacks (N Engl J Med, 2006 Apr 13;354(15):1601-13). They cause inflammation, an over-activity of the immune system that causes heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; 79:606-12). Trans fats also cause obesity and insulin resistance. A week ago, a study linked worsened memory function to higher consumption of trans fatty acids (PLoS ONE, June 17, 2015).
Why Do Food Companies Still Use Trans Fats? Many food companies have responded to public pressure and have already switched from trans fats to the saturated plant fats such as coconut oil or palm kernel oil. However, some products still contain trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) even though they are known to be harmful. Food companies use them because they are cheap, they give foods a longer shelf life than those made with liquid oils or butter, they provide crispness that is hard to obtain with liquid oils, and they withstand repeated heating without breaking down.
The new regulations banning trans fats will not take effect until June 16, 2018, so you will need to continue to read the list of ingredients on processed foods for the next three years. At this time the FDA requires foods to say trans fats on the nutrition label only if they contain more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, so many foods that claim to have no trans fats still have them. The only way to be sure is to read the entire list of ingredients.
A Healthful Diet With No Trans Fats The best way to avoid trans fats is to eat a diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds. Use only liquid vegetable oils such as olive, canola, safflower, peanut and sunflower oils. A healthful diet limits meat, fried foods, and sugary foods and beverages. If you choose to eat any processed foods, read through the list of ingredients, and if you see the words "partially hydrogenated", put it back on the shelf.
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