By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow
I hope you aren’t a margarine fan because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announcement to ban trans fats may have marked its death. FDA plans to no longer qualify partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as a safe additive for use in food, making foods with unapproved PHO additives illegal. PHOs are infamously known as the main source of artificial trans fat in processed foods such as frozen pizza, coffee creamer, microwave popcorn and, of course, margarine.
It’s no secret that FDA has had its sights set on reducing Americans artificial trans fat intake for a while. In 1990, a surgeon general’s report publicized the formerly unknown harmful effects of trans fats in food. Prior to this report, trans fats were commonly thought of as healthy alternatives to saturated fats from animal products like butter and lard. Such misconceptions caused numerous food makers to switch from butter to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Many food manufacturers have voluntarily reduced or eliminated trans fats in their products. In fact, the average American’s trans fat intake has decreased from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to 1 gram per day in 2012. Even with this drastic reduction in trans fat consumption, the FDA was still concerned, maintaining that current levels of trans fat intake is a public health problem. It is now well known that trans fats increase the risk of heart disease. In its statement the FDA said that further reduction of trans fat in Americans diets could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease related deaths each year. The Institute of Medicine concluded that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption.
It’s my hope that other consumers see the benefits of FDAs determination and are pleased by the new nutritional requirements.