By Briana Vannozzi
“No trans fat,” said shopper Bronwen Bocskai.
It’s the artery-clogging, artificial ingredient that causes many consumers to spend extra time reading labels. But the FDA says, no more.
“It’s taken probably over ten years for the FDA to finally make a final decision,” said University Medical Center of Princeton Clinical Nutrition Manager Denise Dacey.
The agency will give food manufacturers three years to remove trans fat — or partially hydrogenated oils — from the nation’s food supply. It’s a decision they say could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks a year.
“Studies have shown that it actually increases the bad cholesterol or the artery clogging cholesterol — the LDL — and decreases the good cholesterol — the HDL,” Dacey said.
“They are also finding that trans fats are causing inflammation as well as insulin resistance in the body as well, which can lead to type 2 diabetes,” said Mandy Enright of the NJ Dietetic Association.
Most artificial trans fats have been substantially reduced in recent years, but they’re still found in some pre-packaged snacks and processed foods. As Dacey explains, it’s a relatively inexpensive ingredient, and manufacturers get a lot of bang for the buck.
“This actually enhances the shelf life for the food and, you know, prolongs the flavor,” Dacey said.
“Typically they’re found in a lot of baked goods so your cookies, cakes, pies, the frostings that we buy in the supermarket off the shelves,” Enright said.
Between 2003 and 2012 the FDA estimates trans fat consumption dropped by 78 percent. American consumers ate about a gram a day in 2012, compared with more than four and a half grams per day in 2006. The agency credits the drop to a federal rule requiring food companies to include trans fat content on nutrition labels.
“We have to rely too much on boxed things, canned things and frozen things. It is best to start from scratch, but unfortunately many of us don’t have the time to do that,” said Francini Conte.
You may still find trans fat in restaurant food, particularly those with older deep fryers. But most major chains, including the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King, have already taken steps to either drastically reduce or completely eliminate trans fats from their food.
“There is a loop hole to that, in that any food item that contains 0.5 grams or less of a trans fat can technically be listed on a food label as 0 grams of trans fat. So they are still out there and that’s where the concern is,” Enright said.
It could be costly for some companies with deep supply chains to find new ingredients. They will have an opportunity to petition the FDA for specific uses of certain types of trans fats, but experts say that will be hard tough. They’ll have to prove that harm to public health.
“Let’s hope they do it. Let’s hope that they don’t find some way around it, which very often they do,” said Conte.