Last week the FDA proposed the almost complete elimination of trans fat from food products in the U.S. This is an argument that has been debated for the last three decades and this long-awaited move would force manufacturers to rid their products of ingredients containing trans fat.
This important action would effectively remove partially hydrogenated oils from the FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (or GRAS) list. In response to this, companies that include partially hydrogenated oils in their products would then have to prove that these oils are safe to eat. It would be exceptionally difficult for any company (regardless of its size or political weight) to actually do this. There’s basically no scientific data that would support a statement that infers that partially hydrogenated oils aren’t harmful. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of trans fats, a conclusion that the F.D.A. cited in its reasoning. The agency emphasized that the ruling, which is open to public comment for 60 days, was preliminary. But food producers seemed to take it in stride, in part because many had already made adjustments, and Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the agency’s commissioner, signaled that the draft rule might be made final.
Artificial trans fats are a “double whammy” for the human body. They lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. There’s nothing nutritionally beneficial about trans fats. In addition they are blamed as a major culprit in the increase in heart disease in the United States. A somewhat deceptive labeling system has kept many Americans in the dark about what they’ve actually been consuming. For years, manufacturers have been allowed to list a 0 on the Trans Fat line of a nutrition label if the product that label is on carries less than .5 g. of trans fat per serving.
And while efforts to reduce trans fat in the food supply have been effective, partially hydrogenated oils are in thousands and thousands of food products. In fact, consumers would actually never suspect the presence of oils in some of those products. For instance, oil of any sort probably wouldn’t be the first thing a consumer would think of when reflecting on the possible ingredients of YooHoo Chocolate Drink – but partially hydrogenated oils are in there.
For many years partially hydrogenated oils were considered healthier than saturated animal fats like butter. They are cheaper for manufacturers and so they became extremely popular. And while there’s been a major reduction in the consumption of trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils are still pretty popular ingredients in prepared and packaged foods. While we used to eat about 4.6 grams of trans fats daily, we’re now down to about 1 gram per day. That’s enormous progress. But we’re still consuming these oils which are implicated in the rise of heart disease far too often.
Partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats. Consumption is dangerous for all people. They add nothing nutritionally sound to our diets. They add to the incidences of heart disease throughout our country.
All in all, Foodfacts.com thinks this is a pretty easy call. While it will cause food manufacturers to reformulate thousands of products (which will be incredibly costly and time consuming), eliminating partially hydrogenated oils from our food supply will be worth it in the long run. Ingredients that are known health hazards need to be banned sooner rather than later in hopes that we will reverse devastating health trends (like heart disease and obesity), not just here in the U.S., but across the globe.