It took a couple of years for the final decision, but in June, the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was banning trans fat from
foods over the next three years. The action is a good thing for American
cardiac health, but you don’t have to wait for the ban to kick in.
Beat the government to the punch and eliminate this flavorless food additive
from your diet with a little label reading.
What Is Trans Fat?
Trans fat is an edible oil in processed food. You know it’s in there
if it appears in nutrition facts on the package, or in the ingredient
list as partially hydrogenated oil (PHO). Some of the foods that include
this oil are baked goods, potato chips, tortilla chips, microwave popcorn,
fried foods, refrigerated dough, creamers and margarine. Trans fat is
found naturally in some meats and dairy products, but only in small amounts.
Most of the trans fats that Americans consume come from industrial processes
meant to increase shelf life. For example, hydrogen is added to vegetable
oil so that it solidifies at room temperature. Turning oil into a solid
will keep it from spoiling. The other benefit is that hydrogenated oil
keeps its consistency when frying, so it doesn’t have to be changed as often.
How Trans Fat Affects Your Health
“Trans fats were banned because they’re bad for your heart,” says
Parveen Vora, MD, a family medicine physician with
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Garden Grove. “Trans fat can significantly increase your risk
for heart disease and stroke because it raises bad (LDL) cholesterol,
and it lowers good (HDL) cholesterol levels. “
Dr. Vora explains that LDL is bad cholesterol because it forms plaque—thick,
hard deposits-- that attach to the arteries.
“When your arteries accumulate plaque, blood doesn’t flow through
them as easily. This can form clots and block the flow of blood, which
causes a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Vora says. “HDL, on
the other hand, is good because it fights LDL. It flows through the arteries,
picks up the plaque and carries it to the kidneys to be passed out of
How the FDA Took Control of Trans Fat Use in America
With about 610,000 people dying of heart disease in the United States each
year, it became increasingly clear to the FDA that something had to be
done about trans fat. In 2006, the FDA required food manufacturers to
list trans fat amounts on nutrition facts. Many of them started to eliminate
PHOs from the manufacturing process; however, many others did not. The
FDA has deemed PHOs as essentially unsafe, and has given manufacturers
three years to phase them out.
What to Do Until the Ban Is Complete
Since trans fat can still be used for the next three years, it’s
wise to check the nutrition facts before buying chips and crackers, cookies
and cakes, frozen or refrigerated doughs, and bready snacks.
“First, look for a label that says there’s no trans fat; food
makers who have eliminated trans fat are eager to tell you so,”
Dr. Vora says. “Pay attention to the amount of both trans and saturated
fat in products, and choose the ones that have the least. You should limit
the amount of any foods you consume with these fats, especially if you
have heart problems because even small amounts add up.”
Do any of your favorite foods still contain trans fat? Leave your comment below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.