It’s in your frozen pizzas, your microwave popcorn, your baked goods and margarine, your coffee creamers, and, of course, your favorite deep-fried delicacies. It’s trans fat that makes these foods taste so good.
But, in the ultimate “too much of a good thing” scenario, it may also be what leads to an early death.
Artificial trans fat is added to many of your favorite foods as a cheap way to extend the food’s shelf life, stability, and texture. And while small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in some animal and dairy products, the majority of trans fat you consume is artificially produced through the manufacturing process called hydrogenation. This process adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which then converts the liquid into a solid fat at room temperature.
The artificial trans fat that comes from foods containing these partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) has been proven detrimental to your health. And apparently, we’ve known this for decades. Back in 1993, a shocking study published in The Lancet showed the link between trans fat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease. Eating trans fat raises your bad LDL cholesterol and lowers your good HDL cholesterol. This increase of LDL in your blood can lead to a greater chance of developing heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes.
By removing trans fats and PHOs from our diet we could prevent thousands of deaths.
Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States and according to the CDC, reducing our artificial trans fat consumption translates to preventing 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year.
These striking statistics have not gone unnoticed as many European countries have taken action to ban trans fat in foods. Most notably, and unsurprisingly, is Denmark which spearheaded the movement to ban industrially-produced trans fats in foods 15 years ago in 2003.
The United States is a bit slower to jump on the bandwagon and in 2006 only required the food industry to label the amount of trans fat in their products. It was just three years ago on June 16, 2015 that the FDA officially determined trans fat and PHOs are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food products.
With this determination, the FDA set the date of June 18, 2018 for food manufacturers to end the use of adding PHOs and trans fat to their foods. This means products must contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving in order to meet FDA regulations requiring the food industry to reformulate a large majority of their products and redevelop recipes and ingredients in their foods. But as the date looms closer, food manufacturers petitioned for an extension. The FDA did grant this extension “to allow for an orderly transition in the marketplace.” The extension date for PHO removal is now set for January 1, 2020.
While we’re certainly on the right track, we’re still slow to get there as even with an increased awareness of the dangers of trans fats, the CDC determined, “on average Americans still consume 1.3 grams of artificial trans fat each day.”
So what can you do in the interim to protect your health from PHOs and trans fat?
- Read nutrition facts labels on all your foods and choose products with 0 grams trans fat.
- Check the ingredients to make sure no partially hydrogenated oils are listed. The two most common unsafe PHOs are: partially hydrogenated soybean oil and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.
- Avoid processed foods. Instead, eat a diet mostly of whole natural foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats.
We’ve had the facts and known the health dangers of artificial trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils for decades. So for everyone’s health, let’s just hope the food industry will meet it’s next deadline.