Trans fats, found in many fast and processed foods, have come under scrutiny during the past couple of decades as medical research has linked the food additive to bad cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.
High-profile places such as New York City have banned trans fats in restaurants, and in November 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the first step toward banning—or at least dramatically limiting—the amount of trans fats that appear in U.S. food.
Trans fats emerged in the 1950s, but research connecting the additive to bad cholesterol didn’t emerge until the 1990s.
In 2006, the FDA began requiring food manufacturers to list trans fats on nutrition labels, and in November 2013, the FDA took further action. It published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intention to stop considering trans fats as “generally recognized as safe.” A public comment period lasts until March 2014.
If the FDA finalizes its proposal, any food manufacturer wanting to add trans fats to its products would first need agency approval.
Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils (PHO), are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil to make it more solid. When added to food, the fats enhance taste and texture. Food manufacturers like the fats because they’re inexpensive to use and have a long shelf life.
However, trans fats have received so much attention because they increase levels of bad cholesterol and elevate your risk of heart disease, according to a 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which was cited by the FDA in its November announcement.
Consumers should limit trans fat consumption, public health agencies warn.
“Because they are not essential and provide no known health benefit, there is no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet,” the NAS concluded.
Foods that include trans fats include packaged cookies and cakes, frozen pizza, refrigerated biscuit and cinnamon roll dough, and margarine. For consumers wanting to limit their trans fat intake while the FDA decides on the proposal, the agency recommends examining food labels to check for the artery-clogging additive and then selecting items with the lowest amount.
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