In a move that experts say could prevent thousands of deaths every year, the US Food and Drug Administration has declared that trans fats are no longer considered safe in food.
The new rule released Tuesday, June 16 gives food companies three years to cut trans fats from the food supply. And while the use of these fats has already declined a lot in recent years, some companies are slacking on removing it from their products.
About 85% of artificial trans fat has already been removed from the food supply, as a result of an ongoing public health campaign including a requirement to put trans fat on nutrition labels, state and local bans of trans fats in restaurants, and lawsuits, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The newly announced ban, then, is a means of “putting the last nail in the coffin,” Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy at CSPI, told Business Insider.
What are trans fats and why are they so bad?
Trans fats are made by treating vegetable oil with hydrogen at super-high temperatures and pressures to make it more solid. Companies began adding these fats to processed food in the 1950s to extend their shelf-life and flavour, according to the FDA. The handy ingredient quickly became widely used in margarine, shortening, and tons of other processed foods.
But starting in the 1990s, studies began to show that trans fats raise the risk of heart disease by increasing peoples’ levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and reducing their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. In the mid-1990s, Harvard researchers estimated that about 50,000 preventable deaths per year could be linked to trans fats in the food supply, O’Hara said.
So, since 2006, the FDA has required food companies to list trans fat on nutrition labels, which O’Hara says has led many companies to cut levels of trans fats in their products.
Today, the average American consumes about a gram of trans fat daily, down from 4.6 grams in 2003, according to the FDA. Yet some companies are slacking. “The fact that 85% to 86% of companies removed trans fats from their foods really begs the question [of] why other companies haven’t taken this step as well,” O’Hara said.
Some of the slackers include Betty Crocker, whose Bisquick Buttermilk Biscuits contain 2 grams of trans fat per serving, and Pop Secret, whose Jumbo Pop Movie Theatre Butter Popcorn has 5 grams of trans fat per serving. Many snack foods, including pop corn, frozen pies, and other heavily processed foods contain them as well.
Under the new FDA regulations, the slackers will have to find alternatives to trans fat. “It will save thousands of lives a year,” O’Hara said, adding, “it’s a huge public health victory.”
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