Trans Fat Ban: What it Means for You

November 7th, the FDA made an announcement that it plans to ban trans fat, stating in a press release “…partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not ‘ generally recognized as safe’ for use in food'”.

So… what exactly does that mean?  We asked Valerie Waters, RDN, in-store nutritionist for MARTIN’S Food Stores in Richmond to help us sort it out for us.

RM: What is trans fat?

VW: Trans Fatty Acids (TFA), also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are synthetic and created by a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. What we know it as, is stick margarine or shortening.
Fast Food

RM: Shouldn’t we avoid all fats?  What makes trans fat different?


VW: Not all fat is “bad” and in fact, it is recommend we consume ~30% of our calories from fat each day. The majority of that fat should come from unsaturated fats which are primarily plant based. It is recommended to limit both saturated fat and trans fat daily. Saturated fat is found naturally in our food system, primarily in animal foods. While high amounts of saturated fat in the diet has been linked to increased risk for heart disease, cancer and other diseases, it is still not recommended to avoid completely because our body does need it to perform certain functions. Trans fat, however, contains no known health benefits and has been shown to raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol increasing the risk for heart disease. A post in the FDA blog states, “Elimination of industrially produced trans fat from foods could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7000 heart-related deaths each year.”


RM: What kind of foods contain trans fats?


VW: Prior to 2006, there were many processed foods loaded with trans fat such as many baked goods, crackers, shortening, peanut butter and more. However, in 2006 manufacturers were required to add trans fat to their nutrition facts panel because of the health concerns. This caused companies to use alternate ingredients so they could label a product trans fat free. Today, it is harder to find foods with trans fat, but you may still find it in stick margarine, cake frosting, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, pre-made pie crusts, fried foods, chicken pot pies and cookie dough.
Small amounts of trans fat can also naturally occur in our food system, specifically from cows, sheep, lamb and goats. These trans fat are found in the meat and full fat dairy products from these animals.


RM: Will the FDA proposed ban on trans fats make those products healthier? cookies


VW: While eliminating trans fat from these products is a step in the right direction to reducing the risk of heart disease, the consumer will have to be aware of the type of fat that is used to replace the trans fat. We have already and may likely continue to see companies replacing the trans fat with saturated fat sources, therefore, these products still may not be the “healthy” way to go and should only be consumed in small portions.  


RM: Currently there are a lot of products that advertise being free of trans fats, but when we look on the label, partially hydrogenated oil is listed as an ingredient. Are these products still trans fat free?


VW: The current law allows companies to label a product “fat free” of any source if the product has 0.5 gram or less of fat per serving. Therefore, eating products that have partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list but are labeled “trans fat free” could add up to a few grams of trans fat per day.


RM: So in theory, could we be eating enough “trans fat free” foods (which actually contain a small amount of trans fat) in a day to make a negative impact our health?


VW: Yes.


RM: When it comes to feeding our kids, what should we be looking for when we check the labels of their favorite foods?


VW: For kids and adults, it is important to not only read the nutrition facts panel but also the ingredient list. Keep packaged food free of partially hydrogenated oils and also low in saturated fat. A quick guideline is to keep saturated fat <1 gram per 100 calories.


RM: If the ban goes into effect, will we taste or see a difference in our food?

 VW: Many companies use partially hydrogenated oils to extend the shelf life and improve texture of products. However, it is doubtful that most people would be able to tell much of a difference because of the variety alternative ingredients used.

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