Trans Fats: So Long, Goodbye... Again

Back in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that food manufacturers list trans fatty acids on their product labels. Remember trans fats? They’re really, really bad fats, the worst of the worst. They’re created when unsaturated fats are processed and chemically changed from liquid to solid form. And here’s why we all need to avoid them: they raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. They also increase triglycerides, and boost the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and heart disease, as well as diabetes and inflammation.

When trans fats seemed to be everywhere in the early days of the 21st century, Harvard epidemiologists estimated that these bad fats were responsible for 72,000 to 228,000 coronary heart disease events annually plus 50,000 deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that decreased use of trans fats since 2006 has had a major impact on heart disease, leading to far fewer heart attacks (10,000 to 20,000) and a big drop in deaths 3,000 to 7,000 deaths due to trans fats.

How Labeling Helped

After the FDA issued its ruling requiring food manufacturers to list trans fats on product labels, many big food producing companies eliminated these bad actors. That’s why you may have thought that we had seen the last of these artery-clogging fats. The labeling requirement and the removal of trans fats from many processed foods and fast foods had a dramatic impact: according to the FDA the average American’s intake dropped from 4.6 grams daily to about 1 gram per day in 2012. But trans fats can still be found in a lot of processed foods including some brands of microwave popcorn, cookie dough, frostings, frozen pies, biscuits, margarines, shortening, commercially prepared fried foods, and many packaged baked foods including doughnuts, crackers, ad snack foods. Some fast food chains – Popeyes, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. – continue to use trans fats in some menu items.

On November 7, the FDA struck again. This time, the agency proposed removing trans fats from its list of foods “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), a designation that should have been withdrawn as soon as medical evidence demonstrated how bad these fats are. Removal from the GRAS list will mean that in order to continue using trans fats, manufacturers would have to prove scientifically that the fats are safe to eat. That won’t be easy considering the vast array of medical evidence showing that no amount of these fats is harmless. The U.S. Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats.

On the Omni Diet you are safe from trans fats since you’ll be avoiding processed foods and fast foods. If you’re buying food for family members who are not following the Omni Diet, be sure to read labels so you can avoid products containing trans fats. Don’t expect to hear the last gasp of trans fats any time soon. The FDA is giving interested parties 60 days for public comment. After that, a few skirmishes may delay final action, but at this point in the epic battle against the worst fats in the American diet, it looks like the good guys have won.

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