Although it remains unwilling to label genetically-engineered foods so consumers can choose whether to eat them or not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finally come around on trans fats.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, trans fats refers to Trans-isomer fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat that’s uncommon in nature but easily fabricated by man, making it a cheap and plentiful ingredient in processed foods. It’s generally used as a flavor and texture enhancer in fast food and junky stuff like doughnuts, microwaveable popcorn and those strange non-dairy coffee creamers.
“Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil less likely to spoil. Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life and have a less greasy feel,” reports The Mayo Clinic.
But greasy fingers are the least of your worries when it comes to trans fats.
“Like saturated fats, trans fats raise LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. But unlike saturated fats, trans fats lower HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and may do more damage. The American Heart Association advises limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 7% of daily calories and trans fat consumption to less than 1%,” explains WebMD.
Cutting out artificially produced trans fats could prevent 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks and 3,000 to 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The funny thing is that the FDA and the public have known about the health dangers of trans fats for some time. McDonald’s stopped cooking its french fries in trans fat more than a decade ago, and New York City even banned trans fat from restaurant food back in 2006.
Even though trans fat consumption among American consumers decreased from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about a gram a day in 2012, “current intake remains a significant public health concern,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a written statement.
Once again we see that food companies can’t be trusted to do what’s safe and healthy for the public, so, much-hated as it is, regulation needs to step in.
Following the announcement, the FDA will open a two month period for comments. The public comment period will be used to “collect additional data and to gain input on the time potentially needed for food manufacturers to reformulate products that currently contain artificial trans fat should this determination be finalized,” the agency said.
Those pushing for the ban, including many health advocacy groups, say between six and 12 months should be sufficient time.
Wonder which of your guilty pleasures may never taste the same? Check out this list in TIME Magazine.
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