By Dr. Katy Roberts, EdD, MPH, MCHES
The FDA is proposing to eliminate artificial trans fatty acids, commonly called trans fat, from our food supply1. The problem with artificial trans fats is that they are artificial! They are man-made, created in a factory, not from nature. Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which turns the oil into a solid or semi-sold state and increases the shelf life of food products. Although many food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products, you still have to look out for them. A lot of highly processed baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, as well as margarines and fried foods, still contain hydrogenated oils.
Trans fat came on the market a little over a century ago with the introduction of Crisco (name derived from “crystallized cottonseed oil”) in 1911. Since then, we have found that trans fats increase LDL (or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation, essentially damaging cells and clogging arteries which puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. By not consuming artificial trans fats we could prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year in the United States2.
So how do you know if a food contains trans fats? You read the ingredient list. This is by far the most important information on any packaged food. Forget the label, and go right to ingredients. If you see the word, “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients, which is another word for trans fat, don’t buy it. (If you only read the nutritional label, you might not realize a food contains trans fats, because a food that has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as having 0 grams.)
Not all trans fats are artificial. Some occur naturally in animal meat and dairy. However, it is thought that these are not as harmful, since they’re not man-made. The ban would only include artificial trans fat that occur in processed foods.
As students learn in Ironwill Kids PowerUp!, there are lots of steps that processed food goes through, including hydrogenation, which affect not only those who consume these types of foods, but also the environment. We’re all much better off eating food directly from nature.
1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (11/2013). FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Food. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm372915.htm
2. Centers for Disease Control. (4/2012). Trans Fat: The Facts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/transfat.html