FDA: Food Industry Must Phase Out Harmful Trans Fats by June 2018

In an effort to help reduce coronary heart disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it is giving the food industry three years to eliminate so-called artificial “trans fats” from the American diet.

The action, which had been anticipated for several months, refers to partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.

Food companies will have to phase out the use of artificial trans fats almost entirely by June 18, 2018, according to the new requirement. Consumers aren’t likely to notice much of a difference in their favorite foods purchased at the grocery. Most food producers have already eliminated trans fats, but not all of them. The FDA says the move will help prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.

Trans fats have been used by restaurants for frying foods. Many larger chains have stopped using them, but smaller restaurants may still be getting their food containing trans fats from suppliers. The FDA says that the trans fats remaining in certain foods amount to a public health concern that needs to be addressed.

There is “no longer a consensus among qualified experts that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the primary dietary source of industrially-produced trans fatty acids, are generally recognized as safe for any use in human food,” says the FDA in its public notice on the action.

“We have made many advances in detecting and treating heart disease, but eliminating trans fats from foods altogether can help with vital risk factors, such as controlling LDL cholesterol levels and decreasing inflammation,” said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of clinical cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute and a certified lipidologist.

At one point, artificial trans fats were common in the American diet, but that’s no longer the case. The FDA says that between 2003 and 2012, trans fat consumption decreased an estimated 78 percent as food companies have used other kinds of oils.

Trans fats can be found in everything from french fries, frozen pizzas and cake mixes to microwave popcorn, coffee creamers and the margarine you may spread on your morning toast. It is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which makes food stay fresher longer. But the process can cause more harm to a person’s cholesterol levels than other types of fats.

Trans fats are more likely to pose health risks than saturated fats, such as butter, because they can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol while reducing “good” HDL cholesterol in the body.

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