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Heart Concerns Prompt FDA to Propose Trans-Fats Ban

Nov 7, 2013

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed regulations that would all but eliminate artificial trans-fats from the food supply.

Trans-fats, which clog arteries, are a major contributor to heart disease in the United States. The FDA proposal would remove trans-fats from the list of ingredients “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), substances that can be added to a food product without specific premarket approval. Under the proposal, companies would have to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat, a substantial burden given the weight of scientific literature to the contrary, The New York Times reports. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans-fats.

Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA commissioner, said the new rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

The FDA proposal comes after a three-decade battle by public health advocates. Trans-fats are created when liquid oil is made solid through treatment with hydrogen gas, and they became popular in frying and baking and in margarine. Trans-fats are cheaper than animal fat, like butter, the Times explains. But research has shown that trans-fats are worse for health than other fats because they raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL, low-density lipoprotein) and can lower the levels of good cholesterol (HDL, high-density lipoprotein).

A 2006 FDA rule required food labels to list artificial trans-fats, and this change prompted many food producers to eliminate them from their products. In 2005, New York City directed restaurants to stop using artificial trans-fats in cooking, and major chains like McDonalds found substitutes.

Since 2006, Americans’ trans-fat intake has declined from 4.6 grams to about 1 gram a day, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that blood levels of trans-fatty acids among white adults in the United States declined by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to the Times. But CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said that even as little as 2 or 3 grams of trans-fat a day can increase the health risk, and many popular processed foods contain trans-fats.

The FDA proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days.

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