Eating foods loaded with trans fat is terrible for you. Eating trans fat increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the bad kind, and decreases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the good kind. A high LDL cholesterol level combined with a low HDL cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. Avoiding artificial trans fat could prevent 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks and 3,000 to 7,000 heart disease deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
There are two main sources of trans fat: what occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy, and artificial trans fat from foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fat that occurs in meat and dairy is not enough to be harmful. However, artificial trans fat that occurs in many processed foods is considered by some doctors to be the worst type of fat. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you avoid eating artificial trans fat. One way to do so is to read labels, looking for the words “partially hydrogenated oil.” Fully or completely hydrogenated oil doesn’t contain trans fat.
Artificial trans fat in the U.S. just might be on its way out. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Federal Register notice that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are a major source of trans fat in processed food, will no longer be “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for short. If finalized, PHOs would be recognized as food additives which are subject to premarket approval by the FDA. Food with unapproved additives are considered under U.S. to be adulterated and can’t legally be sold. If the FDA determines that PHOs are not GRAS, it could spell the end of artificial trans fat in foods in the U.S. PHOs are found in many processed foods, and have been widely used since 1950s to increase the shelf-life and flavor stability. They are found in everything from crackers to coffee creamers.
Food advocacy groups are happy that artificial trans fat might be banned, including Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) “Artificial trans fat is a uniquely powerful promoter of heart disease, and today’s announcement will hasten its eventual disappearance from the food supply,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Not only is artificial trans fat not safe, it’s not remotely necessary. Many companies, large and small, have switched to healthier oils over the past decade. I hope that those restaurants and food manufacturers that still use this harmful ingredient see the writing on the wall and promptly replace it.”