November 8, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- FDA to Ban Trans Fats in Foods
U.S. food regulators have announced a plan to phase out trans fats in processed foods and restaurant meals. Research has linked eating trans fats with higher risks of heart disease and heart-related death. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official said the proposed rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year. Trans fats also are known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. In 2005, New York City required restaurant chains to stop using them. A year later, the FDA began requiring that trans fats be listed on the labels of processed foods. Because of these rules, many restaurants and food manufacturers stopped using trans fats. Americans' intake fell from an average of about 4.6 grams per day to just 1 gram per day. But these fats remain in some bakery goods, meals at smaller restaurants, frozen pizza, popcorn and other foods. The FDA now says it will remove trans fats from the list of ingredients "generally recognized as safe." Once the change takes effect, food makers would have to petition the FDA for permission to use trans fats. Such requests are unlikely to be granted. HealthDay News wrote about the announcement November 7.
By Reena L. Pande, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
In a strong move by health officials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a plan to restrict use of trans fats in processed foods and in restaurants. Trans fats are known to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Most trans fats are not natural products. They are artificially made in a process that changes the chemical structure of natural oils to make them more solid. You also may have heard them called trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are primarily used to lengthen shelf life or to improve the texture or flavor of foods.
But they come with clear health risks. Trans fats have been linked to higher levels of the bad type of cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein). They have also been linked to increased risks of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. And from what we know, they have no clear health benefits.
Many companies and many restaurants have already limited the use of trans fats in their products and foods. In fact, New York City has already prohibited use of trans fats.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
First, it's important to know a few facts about fats.
Not all fats are the same. There are lots of different kinds of fat in our diets. Saturated fats and trans fats are bad for you. Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They are not as bad for you.
Guess why they are all called "fats." That's right, they have that name for a reason. Eating too much fat can lead to weight gain. Gram for gram, fats have more calories than carbohydrates or protein, the other major nutrients our bodies need. We do need some fat, but we need to remember to take in fats in moderation.
Know how to avoid trans fats. If the restrictions go through, you may not have to worry about looking out for trans fats, as they should no longer be allowed in your food. But for now, you will find trans fats in fried foods, such as French fries, or in baked goods, such as pastries, cookies and doughnuts. Trans fats are a big component of stick margarine and shortening. Look at the label to find out more details. They may be listed as "partially hydrogenated oils."
Stick to real food. Eat fresh food before anyone has had a chance to preserve it or process it. Cook your own food, and limit the amount of oil and butter. This allows you the best chance of avoiding bad fats.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
The FDA announcement is an excellent first step. Eating unhealthy food is just too easy, too cheap and too convenient. I welcome efforts to make our food supply healthier and safer.
But the next step is ours. We can take the responsibility on ourselves to focus on eating a healthy diet and limiting our total calories. And we can take other important steps toward healthy living, such as not smoking and keeping physically active.
As a nation, we need to take a combined approach to combat the obesity epidemic and start to get ourselves healthy.