The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just announced the long-expected ban on trans fats in food products. Food companies will have three years to phase out trans fats from their food products, National Public Radio reports.
According to the FDA, eliminating trans fats could prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year. Trans fats in food come mostly from partially hydrogenated oils, which, up to now, had fallen under the designation “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), CBS News reports. Manufacturers may use GRAS ingredients without prior FDA approval, but under the new rule, food manufacturers would need prior FDA approval to include trans fats in their products.
Today’s announcement is the culmination of a process that began nine years ago, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban trans fats. Jim O’Hara, the center’s director of health promotion recently said, “This is going to be a huge public health victory.” “It’s time to get trans fats out of the food supply,” O’Hara said.
Partially hydrogenated oils, long regarded as more healthful than saturated fats like butter, are used to improve the texture, shelf life, and long-term flavor of foods, according to the FDA. Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil to make it more solid. Partially hydrogenated oils are found in a wide array of foods, for example:
- baked goods like cakes, cookies and pies
- non-dairy creamers
- ready-to-spread frosting
- microwave popcorn
- frozen pizza
- margarine and other spreads
- vegetable shortening
- refrigerated doughs
Trans fats are now considered worse than saturated fats like butter because they not only increase “bad” LDL cholesterol but also reduce “good” HDL cholesterol in the body, according to Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian nutritionist in San Francisco. Angelone, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said trans fats “don’t do anything good for us.” Eliminating them from foods people eat every day will “help people reduce their risks for heart attacks and strokes,” according to CBS News.
In 2006 the FDA required that food companies list trans fats on the Nutrition Facts labels on their products. This requirement resulted in a dramatic reduction in trans fats as companies reformulated recipes and processing to reduce or eliminate trans fats. The amount of trans fats has already declined by about 86 percent through voluntary actions.
In November 2013, the FDA issued a tentative determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not GRAS and has been weighing input from consumers, advocacy groups, the food industry, and academic researchers, leading to today’s ruling.
Food companies will be able to petition the FDA if they want to use partially hydrogenated oils as food additives, to preserve flavor or colors in food products. But Jim O’Hara of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said his group hopes “the FDA will take a very rigorous and skeptical eye to these petitions,” according to CBS News.