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iStock_000011608722Small Et tu, microwave popcorn?

By now, most of us know that trans fat is bad news. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) really helped out moms and consumers like us in 2006, when it began requiring companies to list the amount of trans fat on product labels. [1] We're not in the clear yet, as everything from microwave popcorn to frozen pizzas might still contain partially-hydrogenated oils (or PHOs, the major source of trans fats). But a new "Federal Register notice" from the FDA indicating that partially-hydrogenated oils are not safe could change the game entirely.

The dangers of trans fat

Trans fats have been used since the 50s to increase the shelf-life of processed foods including: coffee creamers, refrigerated dough products, frozen pizzas, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies and microwave popcorn. [2]

The majority of trans fats aren't naturally occurring. And they have very different effects than other types of fatty acids, including raising our bad cholesterol (LDL), lowering good (HDL) cholesterol and raising triglycerides. Some studies even show trans fats can cause the liver to make new fat from sugar, and may be linked to diabetes and weight gain. [3] Enough said, right? Indeed.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that reducing the amount of trans fat we consume can prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year. [4]

Details of the FDA proposal 

As the agency charge with making sure that the American food supply is safe, the FDA has a strong role and voice in getting questionable ingredients like PHOs off the shelves. In early November, the agency issued a "Federal Register notice" with the preliminary determination that PHOs aren't generally recognized as safe (or "GRAS"). If finalized, PHOs would be classified as food additives and require premarket approval by the agency. The FDA is accepting comments on the proposal for 60 days, and a final decision could take several years to come into effect.

Is the proposal feasible? Many would say yes! In fact, some manufacturers are already producing products listed above without trans fats. Butter, palm oil, and other oil mixtures can also serve as reasonable substitutes. [5]

This is good news for moms. MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner issued the following statement following the release of the FDA notice:

There is no real need to add trans fats to the foods we and our families eat and every reason not to. The Food and Drug Administration’s preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, which are the primary source of trans fats in processed food are not safe is most welcome.

In a nation struggling with heart disease and overweight, any efforts to reduce unhealthy fats in our diet is important. At MomsRising.org, we strongly support the FDA’s move to improve our nation’s health.  We know that many manufacturers have voluntarily reduced the amount of trans fats in processed foods and now it’s time to take the next step and remove this unhealthy additive from all the foods we eat. [6]

Is cutting down on trans fats enough to make us healthy?

Yes and no. It's a strong step in the right direction. But let's not forget the many broader food challenges that we continue to face as a country, including our high intake of sodium and low intake of fruits and vegetables. [7] The fight goes on.

What moms can do in the meantime

  • Add your voice to the conversation. Let the FDA know that you agree with classifying trans fat as unsafe. Read the notice and submit your comment here.
  • Continue to read food labels! Check out both the dietary label and list of ingredients for trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils.

Read more: Questions and Answers Regarding Trans Fat, the Food and Drug Administration.

Sources: 

[1] http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm372915.htm

[2] ibid

[3] Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, speaking to Center for Science in Public Interest. 12/3/13.

[4] ibid

[5] Dr. Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

[6] Moms Praise Agency Action on Trans Fats, Say Further Eliminating Additive Will Improve Health, MomsRising.org. http://www.momsrising.org/page/moms/moms-praise-agency-action-on-trans-f...

[7]  Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, speaking to Center for Science in Public Interest. 12/3/13.

 


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