The Food and Drug Administration moved Thursday to virtually eliminate trans fat, an artificially created artery-clogging substance, from Americans’ diets.
The move follows a massive effort by food makers and restaurant chains to remove the substance over the last decade, as consumers become more educated about risks and vote for healthier alternatives with their wallets. The FDA has required nutritional labels break out trans fat content since 2006, a regulation that spurred many companies to alter their recipes.
Trans fats, still used in a number of products from margarine and coffee creamer to frozen pizza, are a major health concern for Americans despite lower consumption over the last 20 years. The primary dietary source of trans fats in the American diet come from partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fats are used mostly for texture and stability — they allow products to have a longer shelf life, give flakiness to crusts and biscuits and keep peanut butter from separating.
The FDA believes that further reduction in the amount of trans fat in Americans’ diets could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year. The agency has opened a 60-day review period to collect additional data before it moves to ban trans fats. The ban would likely be a gradual process with full compliance expected within a few years.
The FDA says Americans’ consumption of trans fats has declined almost 80 percent in the last decade thanks to broader education about their risks, voluntary reduction by food manufacturers and restaurants and some local bans, like New York City’s in 2007.
Most major restaurant chains almost completely did away with partially hydrogenated oils in the mid- to late-2000s, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
A handful of chains, such as Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and Popeyes, still have menu items that contain some partially hydrogenated oil, according to the watchdog group.
“Getting rid of artificial trans fat is one of the most important life-saving measures the FDA could take,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
An FDA ban would focus on partially hydrogenated oils and would not affect the small amount of naturally occurring trans fat found in some meat and dairy products.
Source: MCT Information Services